Stage: Wednesday, September 26, 2002
Pam Am

For Lindbergh comes off as a tale of flying in the post-9/11 world.


After Sept. 11, there were two kinds of survivors — real and phony. Among the authentic are those who lost spouses, family members, and friends; the living wounded who barely escaped when the planes hit; and the bystanders who fled from rolling walls of smoke. They’re all distinct from a group of self-appointed survivors who’ve been a consistent annoyance—emotionally exhibitionist non-New Yorkers whose lives were basically untouched except by the horrific images. You’ve seen these folks on tv, and you may well know some. They run to the public square, tear at their hair, and wail about how the world has changed, while the real victims deal privately with painful burns and the agonizing deaths of loved ones.

I couldn’t find an accurate label to describe the 9/11 posers who pursue attention by piggybacking on the sorrow of others, until veteran Fort Worth-Dallas stage artist Pam Dougherty nailed it on the opening night of her autobiographical solo show, For Lindbergh. She used the phrase “drama queen” — more accurately, she designated herself one with self-deprecating pride. Onstage, she’s a much classier variety than the drama queens let loose on the cable news networks. Lindbergh began as an urgent e-mail to friends and was transformed through editing and rehearsal into a casual if energetic two-hour show. Dougherty strides back and forth across the stage, holding on bravely (and sometimes barely) as the material veers widely among personal relationships, her idealistic youth.and the events of Sept. 11. Once this sometimes beguiling but oppressively lengthy piece was over, I’d rather Dougherty have read the original e-mail to me, preferably with a cup of coffee in her Oak Cliff cottage, which she described as “hippie” modern.

Dougherty obviously knows better than to use last September’s events as her private wailing wall. There’s no hand-wringing, and just the barest hint of despair, as the writer-performer describes with a nervous, mile-wide smile how she took six flights in 14 days just weeks after the hijackers struck. As if fear of flying weren’t a palpable enough subject — and Dougherty had it well before the color-coded terrorism alerts — she also feared for the safety of numerous New York friends when the twin towers hit the ground. Yet an opportunistic odor drifts from this project. Dougherty and her director and co-editor Jim Covault must surely have known this was a possibility when the production agreement was finalized. You can feel the actor grasping for some kind of private lesson or intimate meaning in 9/11. Given the broad religious and cultural intentions of the perpetrators, I suspect there isn’t one unless we manufacture it. Unfortunately, it feels as if Dougherty and Covault have done exactly that.

The two acts of For Lindbergh could be given simple geographic titles — “New York” and “California.” During the first half, Dougherty flies east to fulfill duties for the national theater union Actors Equity and reunites with her gung-ho son, a 6´4´´ U.S. Air Force recruit who wants to be a fighter pilot. They encounter a New York besieged by domestic patrol rifles and yellow “Do Not Enter” signs. After intermission, she heads for the Pacific with her daughter, a sleepy high school graduate scouting top California colleges and oblivious to her mother’s hippie history there. Dougherty is the only constant amid the shifting scenarios — helpless, hopeful, and verbose on the current of events. Sept. 11 gets shoe-horned into the West Coast conclusion.

Stage West took a calculated risk by giving a favorite performer three consecutive weekends to riff on a subject that inspires painful weariness in many. Dougherty was worth a gamble, having adapted herself effortlessly to comedies, dramas, and musicals. She’s a unique blend of character actor and marquee star—even when she assumes strikingly different roles, you never tire of the neurotic intelligence and sexy wit that sweeps across the stage in this fiftysomething woman’s wake. But For Lindbergh tests that admiration with an inchoate blend of the personal and the historical that’s undigested and indigestible. I think Dougherty sold her own experiences short by assuming she must attach them to something like 9/11 for stage value. The loving way she obsesses over the unexpected paths her children have taken, the magic allure of the scenic Pacific highway, and a drugged-up, dying pooch who gives her a very important lesson are all more intriguing than post-9/11 airport hassles, the way New York turned into a veritable police state after the attacks, etc. Most of the trouble with For Lindbergh lies in the timing—it’s both too long to support its free-form content and too soon after the terrorist strikes to do anything but aggravate our bewilderment at those events.

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