The traditional profession of Travel Agent is melting away as fast as the polar ice caps and disappearing like the glacier atop Mount Kilimanjaro. The travel industry's global warming, generated by on-line services like Travelocity, Orbitz, Kayak, et al., has reduced the number of viable travel agencies to a mere fraction of those that existed twenty years ago. The ones that remain and thrive do so because they offer extraordinary service to very wealthy clients or extraordinarily demanding clients.
It is against this backdrop that Jim Strong, one of America's leading travel consultants, challenged playwrights Greg Edwards and Andy Sandberg to translate his experiences dealing with exclusive travel clients into a comedy play. The recipe: take two actors playing the roles of two travel agents and thirty needy and demanding travelers, shake vigorously, and pour into a One Act container and serve with a twist of irony to an audience thirsty for entertainment that comes to them from the First Class Cabin.
Here is the set up: "Gary and Joanne, rival travel agents and former spouses, are vying for their industry’s most prestigious honor: the Globel Prize. With their reputations on the line, they’ll tackle any request, no matter how impossible, and any client, no matter how unreasonable. Full of overzealous travelers, overbooked flights, and hoteliers who are just over it, 'Craving For Travel' reminds us of why we travel, and everything that can happen when we do."
|Michele Ragusa as Joanne|
Photo by Joan Marcus
|Thom Sesma as Gary|
Photo by Joan Marcus
The writing is ironic, with frequent and hilarious allusions to pop culture icons. The Kardashians are in for a rough trip, as are Patty Lupone, the matriarch of the Neiman Marcus clan, a Russian oligarch who is a master forger, a hysterical poodle owner who needs to get "Cuddles" to Paris ASAP to the doggy bedside of her dying bitch. A bombastic "Ugly American" Senator needs to be rescued from the Aussies he has angered when he cast aspersions on the manhood of beloved Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin. A formerly loyal customer has fallen prey to the charms of the Travelocity Gnome and keeps calling Joanne asking for help in being bailed out of an escalating series of travel disasters in Beijing. And so it goes. Embedded in the writing are subtle and clever allusions to "Les Miserables" - a leitmotif of dialogue lines that include: "Storm the barricade," "Bring him home," etc.
The set for the play consists of two travel agency offices - Bolton Travel and Jetaway Getaways. The design by Charlie Corcoran is perfect. The two offices are separated by a subtle partition, and we sense both the geographic separation and also the similarities between these agencies run by the former spouses. Gary has inherited Bolton Travel after the death of his father, and is hounded throughout the play by phone calls from Florida from his hovering and smothering mother who wonders why he is such a failure as a businessman and as a man. Joanne, after her divorce from Gary has ventured off on her own to found Jetaway Getaways.
|Thom Sesma and Michele Ragusa|
Photo by Joan Marcus
The reason that this play works to such perfection is the split second timing that allows these two actors to transform themselves at supersonic speed from Joanne or Gary to whatever character pops up in a ever-changing kaleidoscope of telephone conversations with needy clients of every stripe or with travel destinations pitching their services. Jamaica and Lithuania send-ups spice up the show. The changes in character and in conversation coincide with carefully cued lighting changes, designed by Jeff Croiter. As the separate threads of conversation begin to weave together, we find Gary and Joanne cleverly using one client's crisis to solve another client's dilemma. There is a touching and fascinating sub-plot of Gary trying to help a feeble female client plan a 60th anniversary trip to Casablanca for her and her ailing husband, since the couple had first met while watching the film. They want to visit "Rick's Café Américain ." Gary's creative solution to the mounting complications is a wonderfully poignant high point of the play.
I cannot say enough about the protean talents of Ms. Ragusa and Mr. Sesma. Each of the 30+ characters is created instantaneously and believably through a combination of accent, verbal tics, posture, nasal tonality, timbre, pitch, facial feature configurations, and change in speaking rhythm. In the hands of lesser actors or a less capable Director, this play could be a bumpy ride for the audience. As configured and as cast, this show is a Pleasure Cruise. Audience members have been upgraded to a balcony suite with a panoramic view of the whole waterfront of the travel industry and the denizens that inhabit it. Book yourself onto this vessel while there is still a chance. The play runs through February 9 at the Peter J. Sharp Theater, 416 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues).
Readers of the White Rhino Report are eligible for special reduced ticket prices of $39 by using code CFTREFER at TicketCentral .com
Craving For Travel Website