Destiny is an oft-overused word. Like so many hyperbolic words—awesome, genius—people tend to use the word “destiny” rather loosely as well. And that can cloud a very important meditation on the meaning of the word. What exactly is destiny?
Carter Stubbs Takes Flight, a new play by local theater and visual artist extraordinaire Brad McEntire, produced by Sundown Collaborative Theatre, both examines and exemplifies the concept of destiny.
The play itself follows a familiar Everyman type, Carter (Kasey Tackett). Carter is feeling rather disaffected with life. His marriage with Felicia (Lauren Belmore) is crumbling, his Boss (David Helms) is riding him, and he’s miserable. But things start to change for Carter when he strikes up an unlikely friendship at work with the soon-to-retire Henry (Robert Linder). Henry instills in Carter the concept of taking flight, or following your dreams. After decades of the daily grind, Henry, aided by hindsight, has found a new clarity in life and eagerly anticipates his impending freedom.
However, things don’t go as planned for Henry, and Carter finds himself with a gift from the sage old man: a rocket pack, both actual and metaphorical as it turns out. And with that,Carter Stubbs takes flight.
McEntire’s writing style is, to put it simply, playful. But the playfulness belies an underpinning of complex themes that weave through the out-of-sequence story and tie it all together with stirring deftness. It’s fun and poignant, never too preachy or schmaltzy. The play grabs hold of the audience’s attention without relinquishing it until the story’s completion.
The group at Sundown Collaborative make the perfect partner for McEntire’s work. It’s one of those great times when one plus one equals more than just two: McEntire with his inventive text and Sundown with their patented, unique process and staging.
Under the masterful direction of Tashina Richardson, the cast of Carter Stubbs Takes Flight absorbs the delightful absurdity of the script and makes it their own.This is especially hammered home in Linder’s performance. Playing three roles, Linder completely lets loose of all pretension and inhibition, imbuing his characters with an engrossing physicality. More than anyone else, he connects with the material on an almost psychic level. He’s the most delightful part of the show.
Of course, that’s not to say the rest of the class isn’t excellent. They are. Helms, who plays two roles, brings a fiery intensity to both while fully distinguishing them from one another. He’s a perfect foil to Carter. But so is Belmore. Her manic portrayal of Felicia has the possibility of drifting into annoying melodrama, but she maintains a sharp comic edge.
In fact, the only complaint would be that Tackett, playing the straight man to this crazy cast of characters, sometimes struggles to match the level of those opposite him. Belmore and Helms especially get right up in his face and read him the riot act on several occasions. And though his character is meant to be a little understated, the sometimes mundane reaction is jarring in its contradictions.
This show required a high level of technical accomplishment by the Sundown team, and they were up to the challenge. Richardson’s and George Ferrie’s set design is creative, employing rotating backdrops to signify setting changes. And Irvin Moreno’s prop design, especially of the rocket pack, is also impressive.
Carter is a man in search of his destiny. And while it would be a spoiler to say whether he finds it or not, one thing’s for certain: Brad McEntire and Sundown Collaborative Theatre working together does feel a bit like destiny, and certainly makes the audience feel they’ve found the paradise that Carter himself is seeking. The euphoric result will negate the audience’s need for any rocket pack—they can take flight with Carter Stubbs just by sitting in their seats.
◊ Carter Stubbs Takes Flight continues through April 21 in Denton; and then April 25-27 at the Magnolia Lounge in Fair Park (home of Nouveau 47 Theatre).