AVweb's Peter Yost reviews an unusual New York stage production whose title comes from the phonetic spelling of CVR — cockpit voice recorder. The play depicts the human drama that occurred in the cockpit during six aircraft accidents, with dialog faithful to the actual CVR transcripts. Yost credits producer/director Bob Berger for resisting the urge to "dumb down" or take liberties with the technical material. If you're within range of New York, this one's definitely worth seeing.
November 15, 1999
Rare is the movie or TV show that
presents an accurate portrayal of anything aviation. Rarer still is a stage
production about aviation, let alone an accurate one. But Charlie Victor
Romeo, a new play that captures the human drama that occurred in the cockpit
during six real-life airline accidents, does a very credible job of capturing
the tension, confusion, frustrations, fears and courage of the pilots and flight
attendants on the doomed flights.
The title comes from the phonetic alphabet representation for CVR, the
cockpit voice recorder that is so eagerly sought after all airline accidents.
The 70-minute show is currently running at the Collective: Unconscious Theater at 145 Ludlow
Street, New York, N.Y. With an intimate theater that seats about 50, the
audience is close enough to the set so that they almost feel as if they are in
the cockpit during each scene.
The six accidents depicted in the play, some of which AVweb readers
are familiar with, include:
- American Airlines Flight 1572, an MD-83 that crashed in Granby, Conn.,
- American Eagle Flight 4184, an ATR-72 accident in Roselawn, Ind.,
- AeroPeru Flight 603, a Boeing 757 that went down in October 1996;
- YUKLA 27, a U.S. Air Force E-3A AWACS mishap in September 1995;
- JAL Flight 123, a Boeing 747 that crashed on August 1985; and,
- United Airlines Flight 232, the infamous DC-10 crash at Sioux City,
Iowa, in July 1989.
Each scene begins with a simple black and white slide giving the flight
information, location, number of persons onboard, and probable cause. A simple,
low gray cockpit faces the audience, behind which the cast sits as they present
a chilling re-creation of the final moments of each flight. Another slide
showing the final outcome and number of casualties, if any, is projected at the
conclusion of the scene.
Director/producer Bob Berger deserves
credit for not "dumbing down" the material for a general audience, as the
cockpit conversations include all the technical jargon that occurs in a typical
airline cockpit, with the actual voice recorder transcripts followed as closely
as possible, although some were shortened somewhat for brevity.
Berger told AVweb that the main purpose of the play was not to
trivialize or sensationalize these accidents, but to show the real drama and
human emotions that occur at the most trying of times. Berger and his cast, none
of whom have an aviation background, talked to pilots and flight attendants,
plus studied accident transcripts and visited Internet sites such as AVweb to learn as much as possible about aviation.
Their efforts seem to have paid off: The only inaccuracy I noticed during the
drama was the use of the word "speedometer" instead of "airspeed indicator"
during the AeroPeru scene. But in all fairness to the cast, it appears that this
is how it was translated from the original Spanish CVR transcript, so they can't
really be faulted for using a term that most pilots would not use. Actress Julia Berger was
particular impressive in this scene as the second officer who argues with the
pilot about the best way to control the 757 whose airspeed/altitude instrument
system is completely screwed up because the static ports have been taped over by
The ensemble did an excellent job of being true to the cockpit conversations,
including the banter, the tensions, the expletives and the arguments. The voice
of ATC was also well done, capturing the monotone, rapid-fire instructions most
pilots will recognize. Most impressive though, were the realistic sound effects
that added so much to the experience, an effect you just can't get reading the
CVR transcripts. Sound designer Jamie Mereness
did a great job capturing the pulsating rhythm of the ATR-72's propellers, the
muffled whine of the 757 and DC-10's turbofans, and the various cockpit sounds
such as blaring warning signals, the "thunk" of landing gear extension,
and the rumble of spoilers being deployed. Hearing the aircraft sounds and
watching the crews' terse dialogue and grim expressions as they struggle with
the stricken aircraft had my pulse rate increasing more than once.
The best, and final, scene is the recreation of United Flight 232.
Actor Stuart Rudin as Captain Al Haynes ably captures the calm but frustrated
demeanor of Haynes as he struggles to keep the wallowing DC-10 upright after a
massive control system failure. [Editor's Note: Be sure to read the Al Haynes
AVweb's Joe Godfrey.] The scene also has the most actors on stage at
once, with Haynes, the first officer, the flight engineer, and the dead-heading
pilot who volunteers to control engine thrust to help maintain some semblance of
control. The scene accurately depicts the incredible teamwork involved in flying
the crippled trijet to the airport at Sioux City, Iowa.
Producer/Director Bob Berger and his cast and crew should be
commended for taking an obviously sensitive subject, with gobs of technical
speak, and portraying it in an accurate and gripping fashion. Thankfully, since
commercial air travel is still one of the safest forms of travel, CHARLIE
VICTOR ROMEO is the closest any of us will ever get to experiencing those
tense final moments of a commercial flight gone bad.
For more information on tickets and show dates, visit the theater group's