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Bridget Carpenter's 'Up' makes East Coast premiere at Syracuse Stage on Feb. 25

February 13, 2009

Patrick Finlon
(315) 443-3626

Patrick Finlon

Bridget Carpenter's "Up" will run Feb. 27-March 15 at Syracuse Stage. Previews will run Wednesday, Feb. 25, and Thursday, Feb. 26.

Carpenter is a young American playwright on the rise. In this contemporary parable, based on the true story of "The Flying Lawn Chair Man," she dares us to consider what it is in the human spirit that makes us want to soar beyond the realm of reason. Why are we fascinated with the seemingly impossible?

Based on the true story of Larry Walters, "Up" follows the life of fictional Walter Griffin, a man who follows his dream of flight with the help of 42 weather balloons and a lawn chair. Sixteen years after his record-breaking feat, Walter's desire to return to the sky is unwavering, and he spends his time toiling over inventions while having conversations with the spirit of French aerialist Philippe Petit.

Inadvertently, Walter's dream puts financial stress on his wife, Helen, who works as a mail carrier, while the fleeting fame from his stunt leaves their son Mikey with questions of self- worth. Brooding over the thought of his sophomore year in high school, Mikey is greeted on the first day by Maria, a bubbly and pregnant new student. Maria's wily Aunt Chris persuades Mikey to join her in phone sales of office supplies, in which Mikey discovers unrealized talents. Meanwhile, Helen's constant barrage of comments toward Walter about his unemployment creates a rift in their relationship, leading Walter to appease his wife by seeking work. As Walter works at his new job and Mikey becomes consumed by love and sales, the conflict between dreams and reality launches this family into a tumultuous freefall.

As a production filled with whimsy, "Up" will fuel the imagination of its audience. "No matter how life pulls us down into reality, you have no choice what your dreams are. It will somehow kill you if you don't continue to pursue them," says director Penny Metropulos. "All dreams come at a cost, and no one knows that better than a working-class family. The Griffins could be the typical American family, and working-class Americans have poetry in their souls. They continue to dream."

The play is based on the real-life exploits of Larry Walters. After a lifelong fascination with flight, Walters in 1982 strapped four dozen weather balloons to his rickety Sears lawn chair and accomplished the sort of astonishing feat that is only devised by walking the fine line between ingenuity and lunacy. On July 2, he lifted off from the rooftop of a friend's house in the town of San Pedro, Calif. His calculations were wrong, however, and the balloons shot upward much quicker than expected, at around 1,000 feet per minute. Soon he was three miles in the air, at an elevation that put him smack dab in the flight path of commercial airliners heading to the Long Beach Airport and LAX. Spotted by two pilots, Walters' flight was quickly reported to bewildered officials at air traffic control and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). He planned to reach the Rockies, but only made it to nearby Long Beach, where he landed ensnared in power lines and caused a short power outage.

This historic, albeit brief, flight granted Walters instant celebrity status. He appeared in newspapers and magazines across the country and was interviewed by Johnny Carson and David Letterman. FAA officials were not amused. Adding to their frustration, there was no precedent for how to punish a maverick balloon pilot, and it is impossible to revoke the pilot's license of a man who does not have one. In the end, Walters was fined $4,000 for operating a "civil aircraft for which there is not currently in effect an airworthiness certificate." Walters paid the fine and never flew again.

The play is sponsored by Lockheed Martin, Hiscock & Barclay and Brookfield Renewable Power. The media sponsor is WAER 88.3. Syracuse Stage season sponsors are The Post- Standard and Time Warner Cable.

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