The premise of Here on the Flight Path reads like a sitcom pitch meeting. So there’s this guy, see, and he’s newly divorced, and over a few years the apartment next to his boasts a series of single women. They’re all wildly different — there’s a hooker, a straitlaced wanna-be singer, and a woman who left her husband because she had a problem with his handkerchief. Laughs abound as John clumsily tries to get close to each woman, and finds instead that he has to learn how to be friends with them. And — cue moving music — learns something about taking love, women, and relationships seriously. Even the bubbly, horns-heavy opening music in Playhouse West’s production sounds like a sitcom theme.
Flight Path is Foster channeling Mae West’s “Marriage is a great institution, but I’m not ready for an institution yet.” Marriage takes a beating, whether it’s John talking about his own or his friend Jimmy’s, or the women talking about their feelings on the matter (from the hooker: “When you spend as much time with husbands as I do, you see what they’re like, and you don’t want one of your own”). There are all the requisite humorous jabs. John tells us that the division of possessions was equal. “She got the house, the kids, the boat, the cabin. I got whatever fell off the roof rack as she drove away.” But for all the one-liners, there is never any meditation on what he might have done to hasten the death of his marriage. Sure, his wife met someone else, but what was John up to? His growth as a character often seems limited to realizing that he wants sex that means something.
Foster himself played the role of John all over Canada, which makes sense because it feels as if he wrote the part for someone he knew. But while the play is about John, the women are much more interesting. We know about their families, their choices, their quirks. John does grow and change over the course of the story; the way he interacts with each woman is different, and appears to have been shaped by his experience with the one before. But overall, the character is a witty cipher.
Neighbor Babe Number One, Fay, is very distinct by comparison. A tough “morale consultant,” she doesn’t trust that a real man could provide the romance of which she dreams, so she makes her outcalls and considers a political career. Foster seems to think he’s doing something outré here, but Fay is more outspoken than she is surprising. Having the hooker seem as if she has her shit together until someone asks how she got into “the life” is a cliché. So is the bit about her unhappy childhood. But Foster took the easy way out. On opening night Fay was played by understudy Teresa Wilkes Levine, whose awkward calisthenics didn’t jibe at all with a woman who uses her body to make a living. She got the toughness right, though, especially calling John on his attitude (“I’ve found that people who have to tell you they’re openminded usually aren’t”).
Angel, the singer, is the most surprising of the lot. Her friends tell her she has pluck, which is apparently code for a really loud voice. Cleverly, there’s a moment that looks like one of those ’40s musicals featuring an ingenue heroine such as herself, when John comes over to encourage Angel and she stands on the table and breaks into “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from Funny Girl. But she also makes some refreshing choices that we don’t expect, and Rebecca Schweitzer is believably giddy — and gullible — in the role.
Lisa-Marie Newton’s Gwen is the most complex character, and gets the most real moment. Describing an argument with her husband as they drove home from the airport, she says that she looked around at all the other cars and wished she was in any of them. The nasal Newton sells this part well, along with a moment where Gwen is breaking a piece of bad news to John.
Technically the show is solid, other than a set change between the first and second acts that was so long that the audience could have stepped out for a post-coital cigarette. Rob Young’s set captures all the architectural horror a name like “Aurora Terrace” evokes, with dun-colored apartments stacked like shoeboxes beside a busy thoroughfare notable for the juxtaposition of an Irish pub and a Presbyterian church. It would be a lot easier to buy the illusion that someone was just rising from bed if the slacks they’d been wearing in the previous scene weren’t sticking out from under a borrowed bathrobe, but director Lois Grandi never seems to require that much realism in her staging.
With the rhythms and depth of a sitcom, the sweet and good-natured Path is definitely funny in a predictable here-comes-the-punchline sort of way. Foster has a knack for one-liners. After giddy Angel has admitted that she’s been cast in Positively Ahab!, a musical 1950s version of Moby-Dick, John quips that “it’s no dumber than a bunch of singing cats.” The same is true of Flight Path. But like the sitcoms it evokes, it is not especially filling either.