Review by Carly Fisher
Conceived during lockdown in New York City, Ashley Adelman’s latest play, Pretending to Fly, sees the playwright playing with mixing documentary style theatre in the form of content from interviews with WWII Women’s Airforce Service Pilot, Carla Horowitz, with imagined realist dialogue from the rooftop of an NYC apartment. Jumping between the memories of a time long ago, riddled with restrictions and limitations for women, and comparing it to those same feelings in the height of the pandemic, the action all sits in the hands of two talented performers - Kate Szekely and Marie Davis - as they navigate multiple characters, forms of dialogue and time periods.
The play is laced with an uncomfortable angst, a relevant sensation that accurately describes the feelings of women in both these contexts. Clearly a moving experience for the actors to portray, it is beautiful to see how much passion they carry for the work, the process and for the opportunity to share the story of a woman hidden in the shadows of history. Emotions run high and though we can tell that there has been a significant rift between the two friends/roommates we see on the roof, aside from a difference in approach to the pandemic and level of concern for safety, no further detail is given as to what has happened before the women hit the rooftop. We know that one is about to move out, we know the other is not happy about it and we know that this is the last night that they will spend together as roommates.
And perhaps that is enough - it’s certainly enough to understand that dramatising interviews one has conducted for her masters is something that they enjoy doing and bringing to life the stories of women that inspire them is something that they both relish in. I sat there wishing I had someone who would want to indulge in such improv with me in this way - it looked like such fun!
Taking place on a small stage, Adelman, in her role as director, has utilised a minimal set and some choice props very cleverly and the space feels interactive and full despite being a little black box during the fringe. This is a major coo at the fringe where too often the set is forgotten about entirely and because of the care taken here, I am instantly transported to that rooftop. Lighting is used minimally but very effectively as well to really give the play a more polished finesse.
The play’s pacing is perhaps what lost me most - it feels quite slow at times which pulled me out of the excitement of the interaction before me. I think that varying the rhythm of the show more would lead to greater chemistry between the characters being achieved. That small note aside, I think Pretending to Fly is an ambitious new work that is extremely relevant for its audience, all of whom have their own lived experience of the pandemic, and is exciting in its commitment to using theatre to highlight the stories of women that history would otherwise have us forget.