Laurel Ollstein’s “They Promised Her The Moon” is making a West Coast Premiere in the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre at the Old Globe through May 12th.
It’s beautifully and ingeniously told. It stretches the imagination. It’s historically informative. It’s timely. It’s well designed. It’s exceptionally acted and skillfully directed by Giovanna Sardelli. And if that’s not enough to entice you to see it, then moon landings must not be your priority.
Just recently my 11- year old grandson saw the movie Apollo11 and loved it. It so happens that I (the collector of everything) had, stored away in an old suitcase in my garage, all the old newspaper clippings and Life Magazine articles on that mission.
Pages and pages of stories and pictures including a whole section on the entire Apollo 11 crew are captured in Life. They include sections of their families their education their hobbies and you name it.
Soon he will be the caretaker of this historical collection and show it to his children for the one- day when humans live on the moon. It gives me chills to know that this history will be remembered by the next generation and not just on stage or in WIKI.
|Matthew Boston, Morgan Hallett (center) and Mary Beth Fisher|
When Oklahoman Jerrie Cobb (Morgan Hallett) was a very young girl she dreamed of becoming an astronaut. With the help of her pilot father (Michael Pemberton plays several roles convincing as each character), over the objections of her over zealous and religious mother (Lanna Joffrey), she learned to fly at the age of fifteen, got her official pilot’s license at age 18 and was a certified ground instructor.
She was a daredevil and attracted the attention both physically and business eye of Jack Ford (Peter Rini). She wound up delivering surplus military planes for him to foreign governments. Without knowing it this set the path for the second stages of her life working in Uganda flying medical supplies to outlying areas hard to reach, while waiting to be accepted into a program called ‘First Lady Astronaut’s Trainee’.
|Mary Beth Fisher Matthew Boston and Morgan Hallett|
There were 24 others other women in the program. NASA did not officially support the program, but the same tests the men had undergone to get into the program was administered by NASA’s Dr. Randy Lovelace (Matthew Boston), chairman of the Special Committee on the Life Science for Project Mercury, the US astronaut program. He tested them in his own lab.
The training for the women hopefuls, both physical and psychological, was as stringent (prolonged weightlessness and tolerate stress) as was the program for the men, but the women out performed.
|Michael Pemberton, Morgan Hallett, Matthew Boston and Peter Rini|
Jerrie ranked in the 2nd percentile of all astronaut candidates and by all that was right, she should have been the in that capsule as the first American woman astronaut. (“If you start seeing little green men you be sure to speak up, Jerrie.”)
The unofficial women's program was underwritten by her benefactor Jackie Cochran (Mary Beth Fisher) who also formed the Women’s Auxiliary Army Core and was the first woman to break the sound barrier, but stopped short of supporting Cobb’s quest to be the first woman in space. She was considered to be one of the most gifted racing pilots of her generation and twenty-three Jerrie’s senior.
Cochran was also lucky to have married a wealthy man giving her the luxury of spending his money a she saw fit. Unfortunately the Navy scrubbed the program, women were out, and for sixteen years was dominated by men.
Most of what we see in act one is a prelude leading up to Jerrie’s disappointment in not securing a spot in the lineup. We first meet Jerrie as a young girl dreaming under a full moon out in the Oklahoma fields outside her family home. (“I see the curvature of the earth. The moon rises out of the sea. I hear myself breathing. The same air that angels breathe. I explode into the clouds. And-I- disappear.”)
|Peter Rimi as Col. John Glenn and Lanna Joffrey|
We follow her journey in flashback the highs and lows, the setbacks and the progress almost as a memory play. This gives Ollstein and Sardelli room to breathe as Jerrie’s life is played out in what seems like real time, while she stands the test of time in the same capsule sitting on a round platform that moves. It gives the appearance that Jerrie is moving through space, on the White Theatre in the round. (Jo Winiarski’s simple set is most effective helped along by Jane Shaw’s sound design).
Living at a time in the early sixties, when the aviation world was dominated by men, she was determined not the let that get in her way. Remember it was the women who kept the fleet safe (Rosie the Riveter?) while the men were flying them.
In a world dominated by too much testosterone and not enough estrogen twenty -four women dubbed the ‘Mercury 13’ were eager candidates in the same program. Half of them passed the test. Sixteen years later American Sally Ride would become the first woman to fly into space. As we know from history, in 1964 the first woman into space was sent by the then Soviet Union.
No where in the script is it any clearer of the male dominance than when a congressional hearing on the women’s program had two congressmen, one pro, one con go back and fourth smug as bugs in a rug, putting her on trial as the first woman astronaut candidate, rather than the program itself that discriminated against women, but the tests were allowed to progress at any rate.
|Matthew Boston and Michael Pemberton|
Heading up the distinguished cast of six playing sixteen characters, Morgan Hallett as Jerrie Cobb, shines. Watching her grow into her character with the assistance of lighting designer Cat Tate Starmer, Ms. Hallett ages slowly from a young girl to a mature woman of importance. She’s a dreamer, athletically agile (running, pushup’s and simulated stationary bike) and wonderfully adept at telling her own story.
|Mary Beth Fisher|
Mary Beth Fisher’s Jackie Cochran is probably the most prominent, arrogant, boastful and smug figure (and gorgeous figure has she) in the entire cast. It doesn’t hurt that she looks amazingly stunning in Denitsa Bliznakova’s period costumes either.
Lanna Joffrey, Helena Cobb, is clearly a pain in Jerrie’s behind as she chides her daughter not being feminine enough. She shows up at Jerrie’s most vulnerable of times never once supporting her child/adult in what has to be an honorable profession, but well beyond her time.
Matthew Boston looks the part (lab coat) of Dr. Lovelace committed to his scientific program. Peter Runi takes on the role of John Glenn. Michael Pemberton is impressive as Jerrie’s Dad, the congressman and Circus Bob and Boston takes a turn as the other cocky congressman in a scene made for TV cameras. Others (press, Jerrie’s kindergarten teacher, the mayor) come and go and are represented by any one of the six actors.
As history will note, Jerrie Cobb might have been the forgotten would be first American Astronaut to make it to the moon, but to those who survived with the medical supplies she flew into their villages for over forty years, she was a humanitarian.
As a footnote, just recently an all women’s astronaut spacewalk outside the International Space Station was scheduled for a few weeks ago. It was cancelled because of ‘lack of spacesuit availability”. In short, they didn’t have the right sizes for the women.
So what else is new?
Two Thumbs UP!
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through May 12th
Organization: The Old Globe Theatre
Production Type: Drama
Where: Old Globe Way, Balboa Park San Diego, CA 92103
Ticket Prices: Start at $30.00
Venue: Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre
Photo: Jim Cox