Charlie Victor Romeo

Local Arts Reviews

Charlie Victor Romeo: Letter Perfect

B. Iden Payne Theatre, UT Campus

Oct. 10

Three new acquaintances gave me an introduction to terror the other night; their names were Charlie and Victor and Romeo, and together they stood for Cockpit Voice Recorder, the device whose transcripts were mined by New York City's Collective: Unconscious to provide grist for a performance mill that has turned out true-to-life scenarios of in-flight catastrophes.

There's a cockpit mocked-up onstage, and we see it from the front, as if we're helpless angels watching from a few yards beyond the plane's nose and unable to assist the pilots and crew in their struggles to remain aloft (or to, at least, land safely). Disaster after disaster -- six are presented here -- acted out according to strategically edited transcripts from actual black box recorders. There's little left to the imagination, there's nothing by way of artistic embellishment. What we get is pretty much what the cockpit voice recorder got -- although the audience, of course, also scores an eyeful of the events' visuals, the frantic checking of dials and pushing of throttle bars and punching of buttons, the facial reactions and nonverbal communication among the captain and crew -- and it's effective beyond all hype, beyond any amount of technical chicanery enjoined to provide fright in more fabricated productions.

What is it that brings an airplane to sudden ruin, that often thwarts correction by even the most focused, cool-headed professionals working to avert what's going wrong? In Charlie Victor Romeo, it may be any of several things. In one instance, it's duct tape left on a jet's static ports; in another, an engine fails during cruise flight; in yet another, a flock of Canadian geese are responsible for what's officially termed "multiple bird strikes." In each scenario, the folks in the cockpit work to overcome the failures of equipment or compromised instrumentation, and most often they work with amazing calm, methodically searching for the solution. It's encouraging and instructive to witness almost firsthand the way these trained teams work; it's harrowing to see that the efforts are often in vain; it's riveting to be in the theatre, paying heed to the action on stage, knowing that what's being acted is being re-enacted, that it has actually happened to a group of people -- pilots, crew, their unseen passengers -- who may not have survived what's now presented for your night at the theatre.

After the show, the performers gather onstage for a short Q&A, to provide a deeper understanding of their process and the wider context of these aeronautical emergencies. It's an edifying session; it's also a necessary (perhaps) buffer between the virtual high-altitude terror and the more sedate actuality of the B. Iden Payne Theatre's carpeted stairs.

Collective: Unconscious and their friends Charlie, Victor, and Romeo unleashed a vast earful of information the other night; I'm still hearing a few of those voices now, days later, safely on the ground.

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Charlie Victor Romeo, Collective: Unconscious, documentary theatre

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