Any play in which a Lifesaver candy symbolizes a "life saver" (get it!?) and Impressionist Claude Monet explains how he paints earthscapes in zero gravity from inside a space shuttle has more problems than any cast could fix. But in Defying Gravity, the new Long Beach company 6 Chairs and a Couple of Artists almost pulls it off.
Jane Anderson's play about the 1986 Challenger space-shuttle disaster is an odd, nonlinear mix of past and future that fails to take full advantage of its various, weird perspectives. That's her fault, not this brave company's, whose performers range from competent to quite good. In the unnamed Christa McAuliffe role of the teacher on the doomed mission, Shannon Mahoney stands out, and her scenes with daughter Laura Hart achieve real emotional poignancy in light of the audience's knowledge of the mission's ultimate outcome. Similarly, showing the disaster exclusively through the changing facial expressions of an elderly couple watching the lift-off (Kristina Leach and Jason Lythgoe playing 40 years older than themselves—without makeup) is a potential disaster that works much better than it has any right to.
Ultimately, it doesn't add up to much beyond a big metaphor of Man's Eternal Quest for Heaven. And call me a crank, but charging $15 for a 75-minute long black-box play? I guess those six chairs didn't exactly come cheap.
Defying Gravity at 6 Chairs and a Couple of Artists, 1409 E. 4th St., Long Beach, (310) 226-7075. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m. Performed in repertory withSexual Perversity in Chicago, so call to make sure it's playing the weekend you want to go. Through June 10. $12-$15.