First produced in 1942 in London, Terence Rattigan’s “Flare Path,” now at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills, is as sociologically fascinating as it is emotionally cathartic.
The setting, at the height of World War II, is a hotel in Lincolnshire, a gathering spot for Royal Air Force fighters stationed at a nearby airdrome. Adored by his men for his bravery and bonhomie, Lt. Teddy Graham (Christian Pedersen, in the linchpin performance of the show) is having a rare visit with his actress wife, Pat, (Christine Joëlle), just in from London.
The hotel’s habitués are dazzled by the arrival of Peter Kyle (Shawn Savage), a film star with a secret agenda -- namely, to whisk his old love, Pat, back to Hollywood.
Other hotel guests include a Polish count (Karl Czerwonka), now fighting with the squadron, and his wife (Alison Blanchard), a brash barmaid turned countess. Also in the mix are Teddy’s tail gunner (Caleb Slavens), his visiting wife (Annalee Scott), the squadron leader (Antony Ferguson), the hotel’s prim proprietor (Ann Ryerson) and a callow young waiter (John Salandria).
From all walks of life, they comprise a de facto family, steadying one another through times of mind-boggling apprehension and dread.
A RAF tail gunner himself, Rattigan knew whereof he wrote, and his wartime experiences directly inspired this play -- an homage to his extraordinary and courageous comrades.
The design elements -- Jeff G. Rack’s set, Michèle Young’s costumes, Ric Zimmerman’s lighting and particularly Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski’s sound -- are superbly specific (although please rethink that crackling cellophane fire, which sounds as if a dozen mints are being unwrapped simultaneously.)
Director Bruce Gray brings a military rigor to his staging, marshaling his performers, all excellent -- and all, thankfully, with believable British accents.
A heartening reminder of the human capacity for valor, this beautifully underplayed production is all the more moving for its very ordinariness.
“Flare Path,” Theatre 40, 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Also Dec. 7 and 14. Dark Nov. 27 and 28. Invitation only Nov. 21. Ends Dec. 15. (310) 364-0535. www.Theatre40.org. Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes.