A Difficult Balancing Act

In Carla Cantrelle's romantic drama Looking Up, aerial performer Wendy (Cantrelle) flies through the air with the greatest of ease, to the wonder and amazement of vocationally frustrated bartender Jack (Bryant Mason). For the daring young woman on the trapeze, the really difficult balancing act is love. Cantrelle's aerial ballet, choreographed by Tanya Gagne, is both hair-raisingly risky-looking and graceful. Lurking in the background of the romance are difficult and frightening suggestions. When Jack meets Wendy, he makes a joke about Peter Pan. In that legendary play about of children in flight, which has provided employment to generations of rigging specialists, little Wendy Darling learns that when you grow up, you aren't any longer allowed to fly, so growing up is scary. Will this apply to our Wendy, and her boy who won't clean up? It's a good question, but the play drags a bit in the middle, where Wendy and Jack's lovers tiff seems transparently constructed to supply plot and conform to rom-dram formula. However, by the end, Cantrelle recovers her footing with aplomb, with a humorous yet rivetingly suspenseful test of both Wendy and Jack's trust in each other and their ability to come down to earth, as well as their physical coordination.

The plot is a standard, dependable romantic machine. Tending bar at a club, Jack dares to look up at the evening's performance act -- Wendy -- and is smitten. She comes down to earth, chats with him, and wins the keys to his apartment, ostensibly so that she can take a nap, but they both know that they really want each other. They have pleasant conversation, great sex, and a common interest in rope. (No, not like that -- Jack's grandfather was a New England sailor; before meeting Wendy, who periodically replaces her rigging, Jack's knot-tying knack was unappreciated by the world.)

A period of domestic bliss follows, slowing the plot somewhat. Of course, all is not perfect in Wendy and Jack's lives: he still hates his job and his crackhead boss Skeeter; she is grieving for her recently deceased mentor, Mario, and for her former life in a circus. Both stress over the difficult balancing act of limiting commitment versus unpredictable freedom, in love and work. Then the relationship hits a rocky patch, for apparently random reasons. Jack makes a mistake that is never foreshadowed or even shown, only discussed. Wendy makes a mistake that reveals insecurities that are, again, never foreshadowed, and which could have been avoided with a little communication.

Cantrelle's acting is solid. Directed by Giovanna Sardelli, she navigates the earthbound bits of the play with equal grace and ease. Mason also rises to the difficult challenge of holding up half of a two-hander. Physically and emotionally, Mason's Jack seems more held down by gravity than most earthlings, contextualising his desire for not only his “Tinker Bell,” but the powers she has seemingly wrested from physics and fate.

Aerialism is a beautiful art and, as Cantrelle shows, a wonderful language for the elucidation of the human psyche's invisible leaps and falls, risks and flights of fantasy, transcendence, and love. Bogged down by a plot that, very unlike a trapeze artist, avoids even the appearance of real danger and aesthetic risk, Looking Up nevertheless has some lovely moments, mostly involving Cantrelle's aerial performance. Furthermore, devoted fans of romantic relationship drama may find Looking Up a fresh new take on the genre. I look forward to seeing Cantrelle find or invent a story on which she truly can soar. I am sure that she will soon.

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