PHOTO: The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Theatre and Dance production of “Censored on Final Approach” includes, from left, Ashley Skoglund, Ashley Wisneski, Sydney Haessly and Hannah Blecha. R. Michael Ingraham photo
Through playwright Phylis Ravel’s curiosity, guest director Shifra Werch and the cast explore the guts of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) of World War II. On its face, the story is not one for the theatrical grist mill and its title is clunky/academic, but the script and cast express the thrills, struggles, vitriol, emotions and determination of the women whose role is tucked away on a back shelf of history. The thoroughness is carried through in all facets. The overture of sorts is made up of hit songs from the era (“Take the ‘A’ Train,” “In the Mood,” “Begin the Beguine,” among others). Fitting in are the costuming of uniforms and military work wear and women’s clothing, plus shoes, along with 1940s hairstyles. The set includes aircraft support panels as floor ramps, with two wings flying (in a theatrical way) above the stage and serving as screens for dual projections of WASP planes, patriotic images and historical scenes.
Four actresses represent the corps: Ashley N. Skoglund as Elizabeth Langley, a military brat who knows the inner workings of the military and is de facto leader. Ashley Wisneski as Gerry Hansen, for whom flying is a sensual kick (depicted) and who wrestles with harsh realities of men and women at war in the same place (where fairness is no priority). Sydney Haessly as Mary O’Conner, a fresh-from-the-farm girl who comes with comical naivety and a pure love of flying. Hannah K. Blecha, as Catherine Watts, the wise one, the pragmatic and yet daring one. Pieced together, the performances sketch an engaging picture. Just so you know but without giving too much away, people die in the play; it does have impact.
Three other roles figure prominently. Two are major forces, period. Andrew Delaurelle portrays Major John Stephenson, a by-the-book, you’d-better-listen-to-me leader who skirts orders because he detests having the “powder puff pilots” in HIS camp. Stephanie Frank is Jacqueline Cochran, a true-life star in the universe of women fliers whose iron will clashes with the male military brass and even her charges. The Cochran hard resolve is depicted in her stance, feet set apart in the manner of a man who wants to let others know he IS. (I don’t know much about Cochran, but it seems to me she is not kindly depicted through the artistic liberties taken; still, it’s a definite characterization). The third key role is held by Randall J. Tranowski as Lieutenant Paul Ryder, whose personality ranges from leering to dutiful to bigoted to mean to concerned, plus more. Talk about an amalgamated character; there’s lots for Tranowski’s palette.
For me, the opening of the play is not clear enough to understand what was so important that, in 1955, there is a flashback to 1943. That’s not a big deal because of the crux throbs anyway. Also odd, to me, is the addition of music in a scene between Lieutenant Ryder and Gerry Hansen, as if the audience needs an assist to know what feelings it is to feel.
Overall, it is a full-bodied production (4½ stars out of 5) that fits the university’s 360˚ brand.
Creative credits: Phylis Ravel, playwright; Shifra Werch, director; Jeffrey P. Entwistle, scenic designer; Elizabeth Reinke, properties designer; Kaoime E. Malloy, costume designer; R. Michael Ingraham, lighting/sound designer and technical director; David Cook, assistant technical director; Erin Gerard, stage manager.
Cast (alphabetical order): Evan R. Ash (Artillery Officer); Ashley N. Skoglund (Elizabeth Langley); Tyler Miles (PFC Donald Foster); Adam W. Meyer (Pilot/Serviceman); Cody Galligan (Wayne Langhorn); Scott Klapperich (Artillery Trainee); Randall J. Tranowski (Lieutenant Paul Ryder); Hannah K. Blecha (Catherine Watts); Ashley Wisneski (Gerry Hansen); Sydney Haessly (Mary O’Connor); Stephanie Frank (Jaqueline Cochran); Andrew Delaurelle (Major John Stephenson).
Crew: Erin Gerard (stage manager); Cody Von Ruden (assistant stage manager); Jeff Chesebro (video technician); Rebecca Kellner (sound); Libby Reineke (prop master); Liz Galba (costume head); Joey Hart, Abby Stuckey (costume crew); Katie Akerboom (props); Jordan Heller (dramaturge).
ASSOCIATED EVENTS: UWGB Theatre and Dance is collaborating with university and community organizations for activities related to the themes of the play. Observing Women’s History Month and the opening of Green Bay’s new veterans clinic, the groups will present a series of events under the heading “Theatre Inspiring Conversations.”
- Panel discussion: “Take Your Daughter to Listen: Women Pioneers,” 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 4, Neville Public Museum of Brown County,
- Panel discussion: “Women in War and Peace: Conversations with Women Veterans,” 4:30 p.m. Thursday, March 6,
- “Not at Ease: A Veteran Print Project,” ongoing through June 1,
- WASPS exhibit, on display during March, which is Women’s History Month, in the UWGB University Union. The museum display is on loan from the
VENUE: The 99-seat Jean Weidner Theatre is a fully outfitted black-box space (no adornments; focus on the stage). For “Censored on Final Approach,” the performance space is set up with a straight-front seating area. (Productions sometimes are set up with seating on three sides). The intimate space demands the actors be focused on performance, despite being surrounded by prying eyes, up close. The theater is the smallest of three contained in the
THE PERSON: Jean Weidner was a psychotherapist and wife of Edward Weidner, founding chancellor of UWGB. The Weidners had four children. Jean Weidner died in 1997. A memorial service was held for her on the stage of the
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