“Escape by Balloon”

Monday, September 23, 2013

“Escape by Balloon”

The Burbage wasn’t the only theater group to make use of the Company Theater’s space on Robertson Boulevard. The most unusual play by a visiting troupe was called “Escape by Balloon,” which I have no program for. My guess is that it was the spring of 1972, when I was putting the finishing touches on editing the poetry section for the first issue of Bachy magazine. How long the play ran at the Company Theater I can’t be sure, but I doubt it was for more than a month. It was an ensemble-oriented effort, though, intriguing enough that I went to see it a second time. The “plot” line (what there was of it) clustered its images around a plan by some captured soliders in the War Between the States to escape from their prison by making use of a balloon. At some point about three-fourths of the way through the play, each character was asked what they would be willing to give up. The second time I saw the play, on the final night of its run, one of the members of the troupe said to the others, “I’m giving up this role,” and walked off-stage, but not before turning to the audience and inquiring, “Anyone want to take my place?” There was a pause. Whatever any character in the play had recited in any earlier performance of the play had obviously never been as radical as this gesture. No one in the audience responded to the gap in the performance for about 90 seconds. Then I stood up and walked onto the stage, a sudden stranger in the midst of an unforeseen escape. I had seen the play and so I knew where it was headed: from that point on, the character who left did not have any dialogue, but primarily moved in a slow dance towards an imagined culmination. I rode home on my motorcycle that night, certain that something beyond my control had guided me to the theater that night and would continue to accompany me, in all the guises and ruses that an artistic life requires of its celebrants.