The irony of a newspaper as one of the most frequently used props in the Theatre of Youth production of "Amelia Earhart" is that the play has simply too much exposition. It's as though a long newspaper story is being read aloud; it's not so much dialogue as a historical timeline.
This strategy breaks a cardinal rule of theater or any type of writing: "show, don't tell." The piece, written by Jean McCann, is about 70 minutes long, delivered with no intermission.
Meg Quinn directs, featuring three actors, two in multiple roles. Quinn seems to realize that the lack of action needs to be overcome, but the material does not allow her to achieve it. A character putting a foot up at the edge of the stage does little to increase the liveliness of "talking at."
The first image seen is Amelia, silhouetted against a dark blue background that morphs to a bright pink dawn. It is one of many lovely uses of lighting, designed by Shannon Schweitzer. The telling of Earhart's story commences with an enactment of her fatal last flight. Reliance on pantomime for climbing into and flying an airplane is a stretch for a story so dependent on conveying the protagonist's passion for the air.
The play's narrator is an unnamed reporter, crisply played by the nattily costumed Tim Newell. The character explains his obsession with Earhart began after writing a small story. He then spent years learning everything he could about her. This gives him license to iterate her biography. Earhart herself gets the chance to tell chunks of her life story. Historical touchpoints, such as famous advertisements, Charles Lindbergh, Hoovervilles, and FDR's presidency, are quickly run through; they cannot possibly be comprehended by 8-year-olds, the youngest age for which Theatre of Youth recommends this show.
Christina Rausa, as Earhart, offers a spirited interpretation of the perfunctory material, which bolsters truths that history has revealed: while adventurous and determined, Earhart was not a great pilot, and was frequently manipulated by George Putnam (Guy Balotine), her promoter-husband.
In order to achieve some of her goals, which included both her insatiable desire to prove herself and recognition for women's potential, Earhart behaved in ways that were not always admirable.
The exposition assumes a lot of background understanding; the completely bare stage and minimal props leave a lot to the imagination.
But I doubt that even the most well-prepped eight-to-12-year-olds will have the attention or historical perspective to glean the enormity, the drama, the fixation that the world had with Earhart from such a minimal telling.
There was discernible fidgeting in the audience after the show's first hour. Children may catch the spirit of the material; if that is the least that's accomplished, that's something -- the idea is to engage kids' minds, to start or continue a conversation. There is certainly a lot to talk about.
Review: Two stars (out of four)
"American Pioneers: The Amelia Earhart Story"
Presented through April 11 by the Theatre of Youth in the Allendale Theatre, 203 Allen St. For information, call 884-4400.