Chicago Reader

In the published version of Darren Callahan's play--brought out last month by Polarity Ensemble Theatre, the same folks responsible for this world premiere production--its four acts are given in a different order than they are onstage. That pretty much says it all, coherencewise. The White Airplane takes off, as it were, from the sort of premise that might occupy a stoned college student all night: What if there were an airline with hard-to-see, cloud-white planes that transported souls from one body to another, so that, say, a guy from Pittsburgh could find himself inside a guy from Japan? Well, what if there were? Callahan's answer isn't unlike the one you might expect from the college student. All sorts of crazy shit happens, but none of it makes sense or goes anywhere, and if you're not stoned it wears thin well before the two hours are up. The cast are energetic and charming, but apparently have no idea how people from Pittsburgh talk. --Tony Adler

Comments from users:

I saw the play opening night and enjoyed it. I thought the concept was pretty cool (although if you are not used to a Magna/Anime style story progression if can be hard to follow at first), and with a little tweaking could have the makings for a Steven King-esk short story with body swaps, a dash of mystery, and enough hints and repetition of lines/ideas to keep the scenes/characters connected.

I recommend The White Airplane for anyone looking to go for a ride, complete with flight attendants to take your tickets (and little bags of peanuts for those in the front row!). -JS

Posted by l0mathon

What a trip is right! I have no idea what this play was about, but I have thought about it every day since seeing it last weekend. I think I might have to see it again just to believe it's real. I cannot believe someone had the brass balls to make this play -- in this safe town, in this economy. What a relief to see something unexpected. Flawed, yes, but entertaining on a whole new level.

Posted by HandyMan

Yeah, I see what you're saying, but hasn't anyone in the Western Hemisphere ever read Murakami or seen a David Lynch movie? Clearly all the weirdness was intential and provokative (sic). And things had such style it didn't matter that it wasn't a true narrative. I tuned out in one part, but the rest was gold.

Posted by Diction

As an actor for a diff troupe, I'm surprised there isn't more recognition for the cast. I have family in Pittsburgh and they sound very NYC, so the accent made sense to me anyway. But, man, that script must have been a bear for the actors and I thought what they did was really stretching (in a good way.)

Posted by Aktor

First, it's weird that I'm doing this, because I hate to create an account just to comment, but... I sought out reviews of TWA after seeing it. I never do that. I'm usually satisfied with my own thoughts. But I couldn't tell what to think on this when I left the show. Needed a decoder, but the reviews were not helpful. Seems they washed their hands of it. Crazy, since so much to discuss. How could you not want to swim around in these stories. TWA is the only thing I've seen on stage that you can call epic. It's the first play I've seen that made me think about why we are here. This should be studied in schools. I wish I could act cos I totallyl would want to be in this.

Posted by BBer

Is it possible to give both a 5 and a 1 star review at the same time -- because this is either the worst show in town or the best. I'm going with 5 because I don't know what it mean (thought I have ideas), but I was very into it. I saw some other people say it was boring and THAT'S NOT POSSIBLE. There isn't a second of this that's boring. Confusing, yes, but never boring. I was rivited until the end, which wasn't even really an end, know what I mean? It's more like an explosion than a play.

Posted by Paul Lewin

"The White Airplane" succeeds in its metaphor in a painful, visercal way. The audience is swooped up in a blithely brutal way by a craft built over the course of a weekend, whereas it is subsequently hijacked by the theater company and the mega-talented cast lack the superpower to keep interest from crashing into the ground. Psuedo-lofty and proud of it, confusing and wilful of it and choppy and glad about it, TWA deserves the fate of, well, TWA.

Chicago Sun-Times

Complex 'Airplane' takes surreal flight

Polarity Ensemble is embarking on an interesting project with the world premiere of "The White Airplane."

Darren Callahan's surrealist play begins with a mystery about a Japanese typist who is suspected in the disappearance of his wife. It then segments into four different stories, featuring four different groups of people all affected by the flight of a particular white airplane.

Director Susan Padveen was intrigued when she first read the play.

"There is a definite voice that clearly is telling a story but it's not typically what you would expect," Padveen said. "Reality is constantly shifting. It is very unique material, but not in a gimmicky way."

Four actors -- Mason Hill, Alex Reimers, Britni Tozzi and Ron Dryan -- play four different characters in each act.

"It's a real stretch for the actors," Padveen said. "But fun because you are creating not one story but four."

Playwright Callahan is the winner of NPR's National Radio Drama Award. His most recent local production was 2007's "Horror Academy," a commission for Babes with Blades.

As is the case with new plays, Padveen's biggest challenge is to identify the essence of they play in order to "permeate the story."

"Because it's not a traditional two-act, it's really required a lot of exploration," the director said. "There's no playbook so to speak. We're figuring it out as we go along. And it's been great that the playwright has allowed us to dig around in it by ourselves. He's letting us find our own way in."

Time Out Magazine

If publicity materials offer any indication, Polarity’s pleased as punch at having the balls to take on this deliberately disjointed tale of soul transmigrations aboard the decks of a White Airplane. And well it should be. From material self-consciously designed to eschew those bourgie, normative storytelling techniques that make theater, well, watchable, Polarity’s crafted an evening frenetic enough to keep us entertained. Many a fringe troupe fumbles harder on more solidly crafted fare.

Deep credit for the production’s high points go to Polarity’s slate of steamroller actors. Airplane calls for its cast members to jump roles repeatedly as a mysterious (read: random) mechanism transplants them into different bodies the world over. A trick that could leave actors grappling with how the heck to maintain character cohesion only invigorates Polarity’s ensemble to plunge heedlessly onward. Mason Hill proves particularly adept at the task, delving exuberantly into roles ranging from stodgy Japanese surgeon to Pittsburghian couch potato. Better even than his range is his ever-augmenting enthusiasm.

Still, surrealist comedy works best when meditating in warped fashion on the everyday, establishing familiar tropes only to send them up with entertaining flair. Yet Callahan’s tropes feel both unfamiliar and thinly wrought. His riff on Japanese noir, for example, pops unexpectedly into view when the narrative tacks from Oxbridge to Tokyo. What we’re meant to garner from a context-free send-up of an arcane genre is anyone’s guess.

Padveen’s hit-or-miss pacing doesn’t help: Haphazardly tempoed scenes toward the play’s middle (when through lines truly dissolve) leave us honestly wondering whether the extensive onstage bloodshed aims for slapstick or pathos. Despite the actors’ awesome efforts, tedium finally takes hold.

VanDerbilt Wed, Mar 11, at 04:35pm

Holy Moses this play was hard to follow, but I just had to let it go. Once you surrender having it make narrative sense, you see how great it really is. Every line of dialog is brilliant, and I'm just fascinated with all the body swapping. It would make a fantastic movie.

Madelyn Writer Mon, Mar 09, at 02:59pm

I give this production three stars, all of which can be distributed amongst the cast of six. They give their all - it is their interaction, eye contact and body language on which a truly brilliant script could reside. Unfortunately, someone swapped the brilliant script out with "The White Airplane", pompous and proud of it, vague and delighted by it, convoluted and self-congratulatory about it. "The White Airplane" is hijacked by its author and it the audience who ends up its casualties.

Nate Mon, Mar 09, at 11:40am

Saw this on Saturday with a packed house and it was amazing. Still in my head. I've seen some stuff I've never seen before on stage. Cast was amazing.

Tag Tue, Mar 03, at 09:19pm

Well, in the first scene there's sex with a beautiful woman and a very bloody and unexpected killing, so I was hooked pretty quick into a play that has no rules, per se. I think the play would have to work pretty hard to screw up that good will. I don't know, I liked it. That's all I can say. It was fun.

Windy City Times

The givens of the play—the basic information provided by it—are that it has four scenes taking place on three different continents and in the air. The scenes offer characters of different races and vastly different socio-economic strata united by a deja vu sense that each is a different person in a different place at the same time as he is here/now. Each scene contains violence ranging from stabbings in two scenes to apparent plane crashes. And each key character has a vision of seeing—or being inside—an all-white airplane that others cannot see. Beyond that, author Darren Callahan connects very few dots in a work that is offered as surreal. In the sense that it plays out as an irrational dreamscape, The White Airplane is surreal. But it isn't a work of surrealism in the sense of the formal artistic movement. It is, perhaps, more non sequitur than surreal.

Truth is, I found my interest—which was keen at first—steadily waning as the play progressed because: ( a ) Callahan doesn't provide any characters one can care about and ( b ) he simply doesn't offer enough information for viewers to make sense of the puzzle. Is the white airplane real? Does it crash in the first and fourth scenes? Is it a harbinger of death? Is soul transposition possible? Does any of it matter to me? By offering a conundrum, but not extracting even a spiritual or emotional value from it, the play leaves its audiences twisting in the wind. Callahan shifts radically in tone from scene to scene, from the opening moments of British sex farce to a sober ending that combines The Twilight Zone with Sartre. It is, perhaps, too much style and too little information. I think the play wants to be a comedy; it certainly should be a comedy, but I don't think that's what Callahan intends.

OK, so you get the idea that The White Airplane is quirky and I can't figure it out. Fair enough. Director Susan Padveen puts a generally capable cast of six ( four principals and two extras ) through their paces in snappy fashion, but with only two dimensions to play ( forget the space-time continuum for a moment ) it's difficult to access the competence of the acting. It's energetic, sometimes funny, sometimes merely blustery. To the show's credit, stereotypes are avoided in Scene 2, in which non-Asians play Asians. Before the show and between scenes, the audience is greeted with air travel trappings which are engaging and fun. And scenic designer Jason Epperson has labored with some wit—if not always with complete success—to create four distinct settings in a difficult space with little stage technology to help.

Is The White Airplane ambitious, pretentious or merely silly? You decide.


The White Airplane? No, it’s not about that U.S Airways jet in the Hudson. Chicago playwright Darren Callahan, who suffered a one-time seizure, followed by a battery of confounding tests involving sleep deprivation, attempts to capture that “somnambulistic blur” in his play, presented by Polarity Ensemble Theatre Feb. 16-March 22 at the company’s new home at the Josephinum Academy, 1500 N. Bell (onetime home for the Keyhole Players).

Killer Works

If you're interested in the EXTREME opposite of "Machine Girl" and you're in Chicago between now and March 22'nd, get thee to the theatre production of Darren Callahan's "The White Airplane". It does involve Japanese characters and a dash of bloodshed and murder, but that's pretty much the only overlap with The Machine Girl! The White Airplane is a four distinct scene play with an existential Twin Peaks vibe. British, Japanese, American, and French Canadian characters jump bodies through time and space with a White Airplane as their vehicle. Worth checking out if you're in the hood.

The Onion

Despite the title, word has it there will not be an airplane on the stage for this world première by Darren Callahan. There does, however, promise to be plenty of what Polarity calls "a surreal mash-up of mystery, horror, and high comedy" in this story of a Pittsburgh man who's suddenly transported inside the body of a typist in Japan. There is also a white airplane involved somehow. Polarity has been emerging over the past four years with more and more critical acclaim, and this is its first world première of a new play.

The White Airplane crashes and burns

Darren Callahan boldly states that he wrote The White Airplane in a single night—it shows. It is suppose (sic) to be a surrealist mystery that has four scenes that renders as a convoluted and incoherent mess. Why anyone would think this show is stage worthy defies explanation. “Fused with plots from hard-boiled mysteries, absurd comedies, romantic films, European and Asian fiction, the piece is built in fragments,” said playwright Callahan. What I’d (sic) saw was a poorly acted and clumsily staging (sic) non-funny show that is disjoined and drones on until both the audience and the actors are tired from over kill (sic).

Nothing works here. The attempt to use modern Japanese style, American noir, British comedy and French existential elements never jelled. The play never established a consistent tone or comic style—it is part slapstick, part parody and part satire with over-the-top melodrama. The show simply isn’t funny enough to sustain interest. The four scenes lack empathetic characters and a through line with which to anchor the humor. The author admits that the play can be frustrating and it will anger some. That is true, (sic) I’d add that it will bore many to tears. Not many laughed at the opening night audience (*).

The four cast members were asked to play multiple parts with disastrous results. They all were over matched (sic) by the scripts requirements. I’m not sure strong, experienced Equity players could handle this over ambitious work. The cast resorted to shouting and lame physicality while sporting strange accents as they tried too hard to force laughs—a sure sign that they didn’t trust their material. This show needs to be re-thought and re-cast before it deserves an audience.

(*) Note: The play's not a comedy, DC