DRAMA: Student-produced “Amelia Earhart” soars high

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Amrutha Dorai

Amelia Earhart, played by senior Anna Shabrova, attempts to steer her airplane through a heavy storm. Extraordinary performances such as Shabrova’s, as well as a minimalistic yet potent set design, helped make the drama department’s new student-produced show “Amelia Earhart” a success. Photo by Amrutha Dorai.

Amelia Earhart was not a quitter.

She battled countless failures and naysayers throughout her life. However, the pilot always stubbornly refused to give in, and this strong sense of will is the engine behind the drama department’s new student produced show “Amelia Earhart.” In the production, Earhart, played by senior Anna Shabrova, always gives the same response to her doubters:

“Every pilot that goes up,” says Earhart, “has to expect their engines to conk out once in a while.”

The show, on the other hand, does not conk out even once. “Amelia Earhart,” which played on May 4 and May 5, is a perfect storm of talent: talented director senior Nicolas Arquie guides a talented cast to success on a set created by talented designers. Despite the fact that the performance — along with the drama department’s other student-produced show, “The Adventures of Pinocchio,” which ran on May 3 and May 5 — was held in the Black Box theater rather than the main auditorium, “Amelia Earhart” ranks among the best drama productions in recent memory.

Following a nonlinear storyline, the play relates the story of Amelia’s final flight, during which she experiences flashbacks of pivotal events in her life. During those last hours over the Pacific, she relives everything, from childhood memories of her alcoholic father all the way up to her status as a feminist icon, a title whose larger-than-life implications she felt she could not live up to.

Shabrova channels Amelia’s confusion and neurosis beautifully, leaving the audience to wonder how this could be the first time the actress has ever taken the stage, having served solely as a member of the production staff in the past. Amelia Earhart may be idolized in American culture, but Shabrova plays her more like a tragic hero than the gung-ho heroine we all know. In the play she is a woman so determined to avoid seclusion that she traps herself in a cockpit, a woman so afraid of falling that she must fly, a woman so racked with self-doubt that she will go to any lengths to prove herself. When Amelia lands her plane in a New Mexico town to ask for directions, Shabrova’s delivery makes it clear that the famed aviatrix is more than just lost geographically.

Senior Max Sorg is wonderful as Amelia’s father —  a loving man who takes his daughter to the roof and gives her the moon, but then comes home the next evening drunk and swinging. When he sweet talks his little girl, he is genuinely touching; when he screams, he is genuinely terrifying.

In a number of scenes, including flashbacks featuring Amelia’s father, the cast uses white curtains drawn over the sides of the stage to silhouette all the characters but Amelia, leaving her surrounded — both visually and metaphorically — by ghosts. It’s a nice touch, much like many other elements of the very simple set. Consisting of nothing more than a few tables and chairs, as well as a spinning propeller, the set provides a minimalist charm to the show.

This lack of visual distractions allow the viewer to focus on what is truly important: Amelia and her story. And when her engine finally does conk out over some unidentified corner of the ocean, we are so in tune with her that our eyes may just grow a little misty. Just like Amelia lost her way in that storm in 1937, we lose ourselves in the perfect storm that is “Amelia Earhart.”