Let It Fall

— Who cares for the caregiver? Adriana Sevan assumed that when her best friend Rhonda was seriously injured, Sevan would stay by her side, see to her every need, and all would quickly heal on love alone. Sevan expected a "sprint," she tells her audience in Taking Flight. Instead she ran a marathon.

Taking Flight interweaves before and after. We see Rhonda, "the High Priestess of the Fashion Police," preparing for her wedding. She imagines herself in an apricot gown on an untouristy Italian coast with Bon Jovi doing the music -- live, of course. Sevan's thinking boo-koo bucks, but hey, for Rhonda? Call a travel agent. Then we see practical Rhonda: she found a look-alike coastline on Long Island and the best Bon Jovi imitators in the tri-state area.

Sevan's 80-minute solo piece jumps from an uninhibited Rhonda, courting her goddess within, to Rhonda in an ICU unit, hooked to an IV pole, talking through tubes. Her hospital bracelet says "September 11, 9:13 a.m." When the first plane hit, something fell from a tower and crushed her legs.

Taking Flight isn't yet another 9/11 exploitation piece -- or a chipper bedside banter piffle about bonded friends overcoming drastic forces. To Sevan's credit, except for some vivid descriptions, including "an endless wallpaper of missing- person flyers" at Ground Zero, she keeps 9/11 in the background. And the friendship, which she creates with believability (in the beginning they freely forgive each other's faults), takes the foreground. 9/11 caused emotional fissures that continued to crack long after the buildings came down.

Sevan becomes a kind of Clara Barton, at the hospital or rehab center six or seven hours a day ministering to her friend's every whim. Pizza? It's in the oven. Watch Gladiator for the umpteenth time? I'll get the video; rehearse your lines. It goes unstated, but Sevan also suggests that like so many at the time, she felt an inner need to rebuild something that had collapsed: in her friend -- and in herself.

Being Clara Barton takes a toll. Sevan measures her withdrawal with comic references to a fading sex life (the man in her life, Brian, was unharmed physically by 9/11 but blitzed psychologically). Sevan keeps asking, "What right do I have to be tired?" Every right, it turns out.

When the San Diego Rep opened the black- box Lyceum Space in 1986, it often changed seating configurations. Since around 1991, the diamond-shaped-thrust, audience-on-three-sides arrangement remained fixed, and a sameness set in. Recently, the Rep began reconfiguring again. The results are fresh new perspectives tailored to the needs of each show. For Taking Flight, the audience sits in chevron-shaped raked seating overlooking a small stage. It's hard to imagine a more intimate use of the space.

Victoria Petrovich provides a sleek scenic design. A center-stage circle and flowers in clear bowls of water offer as much, or as little, New Age symbolism as one requires. Jose Lopez's lighting enhances the play's swift mood swings unobtrusively.

Like Mo`olelo Theatre's vigorous, moving Adoption Project, Taking Flight is a nonlinear tapestry: drama shares the stage with humorous and surrealistic scenes, each jumping in with the suddenness of blackout sketch comedy. Sevan makes these leaps with ease: from buoyant to hospitalized Rhonda, the former talking nonstop, the latter barely able to speak, to Esperanza Middleschmertz ("hope in the heart of pain"), a magical-realist goddess who eventually tells Sevan to "have the courage to walk away and let something fall."

The most appealing feature of Sevan's acting: this isn't a self-showcasing performance -- check out my fluid dance movements, my Upper East Side accent, my centered moments, and how about my versatility? It's the opposite. Sevan conveys the sense that, like the Ancient Mariner, she must tell this story and is thankful you're here to hear it. She uses technique to express, not to exhibit.

"This play is a theatricalized account inspired by a real-life experience," Sevan said in an interview. Sevan changed the woman's name, and hair color, in the telling but confesses that what happened was "a profoundly life-changing experience." An "imagined happy ending" may not be in the cards. But there's always the hope, in the heart of pain, that the real "Rhonda" would come to a performance of Taking Flight and hear the other side.

Taking Flight, by Adriana Sevan

San Diego Repertory Theatre, Lyceum Space, 79 Horton Plaza, downtown

Directed by Giovanna Sardelli; cast: Sevan; scenic design, Victoria Petrovich; lighting, Jose Lopez; sound, Adam Phalen

Playing through April 1; Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Sunday at 7:00 p.m. 619-544-1000.

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