Saturday, October 20, 2012

'Decision Height' Another Hollins Theatre Hit

Hollins University's latest theatrical offering, "Decision Height," is a showcase for one of its own student-writers, Meredith Dayna Levy, a master's candidate. "Decision Height" is her senior honors thesis and an impressive beginning it is for this 22-year-old.

The play revolves around six young women who have joined the WASP, an Army Air Corps auxiliary project for women pilots who shuttled planes to airbases in the U.S. and Britain. The women are undergoing basic training in Sweetwater, Tx., and their individual stories give the story its depth and its bredth. This is one of the most under-appreciated episodes of World War II and the way the women volunteers were treated remains a shame for our American military, but Ms. Levy doesn't dwell on the boorish male behavior, so much as she celebrates the depth of friendship and camaraderie. This is very much a war story, very much a woman's story.

(Decision height, by the way, is the height at which a pilot makes her decision on whether to land the plane or pass and try it again.)

Director Ernie Zuila, whose theater is the best in this end of the state--even when the pros are around--has nailed this one with his typical spot-on state movement and ensemble casting. The young women in the lead roles (Susanna Young, Emma Sperka, Maria Latiolais, Maya Rioux, Julie Abernethy and Russell Wilson heading a large cast) are perfectly cast with Miss Young effectively stealing the show. She plays a strutting, swaggering, arrogant young woman with no regard for the rules or anybody else's  privacy. But she learns, as they all do.

Miss Levy has obviously done impressive research on this small moment in history (one I know something about) and I could detect but one very small questionable piece of information (about pushing a button to eject from a training plane) in the entire two hour play. The writing is good, the directing nearly perfect and John Sailer's imaginative set so good that it becomes a character. This one was hard to design, but Sailer, who was with Mill Mounain Theatre in Roanoke for years, pulls it off with style--especially the flying scenes.

The play runs through Oct. 21 at Hollins and you can order tickets ($10) at 362-6517. This one's highly recommended.

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