'Safe Landing' offers a darkly comedic flight at the Taos Onstage Theatre

By Kathleen Steward
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 5/15/19

A little known statistic: you have 1 in 11 million chances of dying in a plane crash compared to, say, the probability of drowning in your bathtub, which is 1 in 800,000. These …

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'Safe Landing' offers a darkly comedic flight at the Taos Onstage Theatre

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A little known statistic: you have 1 in 11 million chances of dying in a plane crash compared to, say, the probability of drowning in your bathtub, which is 1 in 800,000. These statistics matter if you are a type-A personality looking for the safest possible profession and it does matter to the main character in the play "Safe Landing."

The seed planted for "Safe Landing," a one-woman performance starring Irene Loy, is the oft-ignored flight attendant's safety demonstration. Watching for the nth time, Loy found herself seeing the safety spiel in a theatrical light, the seat belt and oxygen mask became props, the speech crisply delivered, the movement economically choreographed.

"Safe Landing" was devised by Loy and Mikala Martinez, both of Taos. It opens for a three-day run Friday (May 17) at Taos Onstage Theatre, 101-A Camino de la Placita. The play's clever premise encapsulates a dark comedy cruising at 35,000 feet on Flight 524 from Albuquerque to Dallas on a fictional Spirited Air flight. Dawn, played by Loy, is a single, 40-year-old burnt-out flight attendant working domestic flights. She is a risk-adverse type-A person who works where she does because it is the safest occupation she can find.

"She is obsessed with safety and statistics and making the correct choices in life," Martinez said.

"Rather than sitting quietly in her jump seat, she is going to spend the flight telling you how she feels," Loy said. "She kind of runs the gamut; we are hoping people have empathy for her."

"We get to know her through her likes and dislikes. She makes lists - she makes a lot of lists," Martinez said.

Dawn has been a flight attendant for 20 years and, according to Loy, has kind of maximized what she can do with her career. She no longer flies international and she is getting a little tired and a little nervous. Her running commentary ranges from her romantic life to larger matters concerning security and safety in a time of global instability. Dawn's career spans a period of time that stands as an American backdrop for before and after September 11, 2001.

"The overall tone is, I think, one of her being very human. Her inner life is as chaotic as anyone else's," said Martinez.

Rather than the traditional hierarchy of director, script and cast, Loy and Martinez improvised and collaborated from the get-go. Character formation, tone, plot and script were built upon an idea, piece by piece, layer by layer. "We didn't have any idea who the character was before we began," Martinez said. "It was an interesting and complicated process. We started with an exploratory Q&A, through that she [Dawn] was born and kept growing."

"Let's go off the beaten path, let's go four-wheeling. We discover what it is - it is not determined from the start," Loy said. After "Safe Landing" coalesced into a tight production, Martinez became the director and Loy the actor. "It's up to her, it's her direction, it's her call," said Loy

The concept of the "devised play," according to Loy, started with "happenings" in the 1960s and '70s. Picture a group of hippies in San Francisco's Haight Ashbury, spontaneously performing a play called "Relax Man." Fueled by improvisation, the performance would grow organically, surprising both the ensemble and the audience.

Loy and Martinez landed at the Taos Onstage Theatre on different flights, if you will. Loy has an master's degree in dramatic writing from the University of New Mexico and has experience in writing for both the stage and screen. She moved here from Indiana and, life imitating art, her character Dawn is from the Midwestern capital of Kansas City. Loy and Martinez first worked together in the Taos Onstage Theatre 2017 season production of "Proof."

First-time director Martinez brings an eclectic mix to the table. With a background in high school theater, she fell into an off-Broadway improv tour. Then she moved to the Big Apple and lost sight of her objective or, amusingly translated by Martinez, "got a lot of tattoos and stopped." After moving from suburban Philadelphia to Taos with her husband and son, acting surfaced again.

"Safe Landing" is the latest of a handful of plays put on at the now permanent home of the Taos Onstage Theatre. Nomadic since its inception in 2013, the volunteer-operated theater, recently landed a home in Cantu Plaza at the corner of Paseo de Pueblo Sur and Camino de la Placita. The black-box theater seats 60 people.

"It's modular, that's what's so great about this space. We can set up almost any theater configuration," said Loy.

Audiences for "Safe Landing" will be seated as if they are in an airplane with two rows extending back from the front of the aircraft with three "passenger" seats on each side of the aisle. As devised by Martinez and Loy, the audience seamlessly becomes part of the play.

Thanks for flying Spirited Air with us today - we hope you have a good stay at Dallas and come back and fly with us again.

Tickets are $15. For more information, call (575) 224-1587 or visit taosonstage.com.

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