Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was an early 20th-century French hero. The man flew in the skies as an early aviator, fought for a free France during World War II, and became a major literary voice with works like The Little Prince to his name. He also died young, after his plane disappeared.
Sandbox’s The Little Pilot isn’t all that interested in the raw biographical data of the man’s life. The play, running this month at the Southern Theater, is more about the sheer pleasure of flight, be it through the air in a plane or via the imagination to far-away, tiny planets.
To bring that home, the performers employ plenty of aerial tricks, climbing and flying and spinning on golden sheets hung from the rafters. They also split Antoine into five parts, ranging from age seven to 44.
We see him as an imaginative youngster who doesn’t understand why adults think his illustration of a boa constrictor eating an elephant is just a picture of a lopsided hat. Then there are moments of the aviator on his regular journeys across the Sahara to deliver the mail, or the bewildered foreigner stuck in New York City at the start of World War II.
Company-built, non-linear storytelling is Sandbox’s stock-in-trade, and that approach makes The Little Pilot an often absorbing work that has moments of crystal-clear beauty. A lot of that is down to the aerial work, which takes a fairly straightforward metaphor and builds it up to really give us a sense of the freedom that Antoine felt why flying through the air.
That thrill is carried by all five actors playing our hero, from Chrstian Bardin’s imaginative little kid to Patrick Webster as the weary-but-still-thrilled-to-fly version from 1944. Evelyn Digirolamo (also one of the overall leaders of the project) is the one performer not playing an aspect of our title character, but she gets to dig in as Consuelo, Antoine’s wife.
All of this is accented by the rest of the design, which uses projections (created by Kristna Fjellman, who also serves as a project lead) and music to create the show’s atmosphere. All of this tied artfully together by director Theo Langason.
If you come to the show expecting a blow-by-blow account of what led de Saint-Exupéry to write The Little Prince, you are going to be disappointed. Save the history lesson and literary analysis for after. Instead, just glory in the thrill of fully fledged flight above the Sahara’s lonely sands or a distant, alien landscape.
IF YOU GO:
The Little Pilot
Through Oct. 4
420 S. Washington Ave.
$24 single tickets or $18 per-month ARTShare membership
For tickets and more information, call 612-340-0155 or visit online.