by Lorie Lewis Ham
The first thing many people think of when they hear the term “defying gravity” is the song from the musical Wicked. However, in the play Defying Gravity, now on stage at Fresno Pacific University, the term means exactly what it says–actually defying gravity by going into space.
Defying Gravity was inspired by the story of teacher Christa McAuliffe, who was a part of the 1986 Challenger mission. The Challenger was a shuttle orbiter that launched from Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral in Florida on January 28, 1986 and tragically exploded 73 seconds later.
The play follows the “Teacher,” (Gracie Robinson) who is based on Christa, as she prepares for the shuttle launch with excitement and just a bit of fear. We also get the perspective of her young daughter Elizabeth (Allison Calhoun). Other characters include Donna (Karen Vargas), a bartender at a local bar where the people from NASA hang out, and CB (Joshua Bachar), a NASA mechanic. We get see how this experience affects all of them, before the launch and after tragedy. Adding some comedy to the mix we have an adorable retired couple, Betty (Jessica Ham) and Ed (Joseph M. Medina), who are traveling the world in an RV and during their trip go to witness the launch. Lastly, we have Monet (Jorg Letkemann)–yes that Monet–but I will let you find out for yourself what his role is in the story when you see the play. The cast is made up of FPU students and one faculty member.
One might think that this is just a sad story, but it’s not. It is also filled with the excitement of adventure, and shows how an extreme tragedy can affect people’s lives and how they deal with it and move on. It is interesting, educational, thoughtful, funny, and sad. You get to go on this adventure with each of the characters and experience the story from many different perspectives.
Everyone in this cast did a wonderful job of bringing the characters, and the story, to life. I highly recommend going to see Defying Gravity; it will take you on a journey of discovery, love, sadness, and hope. And it is also a great way to support the arts in education.
Defying Gravity has three more performances–March 30, 31, and April 1 at 8 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online and they can also be purchased at the door, but keep in mind it is a small theatre so purchasing ahead of time is recommended. The performances are at FPU Main Campus, Strasbourg Theater (in the Strasbourg Quad, southeast of the Hiebert Library), 1717 S Chestnut Ave. in Fresno. Free Parking in the main lot on Chestnut Avenue.
You can find more theatre articles, and other entertainment articles, in our Arts & Entertainment section.