AFI Fest: ‘Charlie Victor Romeo’

“Charlie Victor Romeo” is a good piece of theater now made into an independent movie by directors Robert Berger, Patrick Daniels and Karlyn Michaelson.  The question becomes: Is it a good movie?

Written by Berger, Daniels and Irving Gregory, the movie derives its name from the NATO phonetic alphabet. Charlie Victor Romeo stands for CVR, which here means the cockpit voice recorder. The 1999 play is taken almost-verbatim transcripts from six real aviation incidents.

Since the play was written over a decade ago, none of the incidents are from recent years. Before we are shown the cockpit, a black screen with white lettering tells us the  year and the name of the flight and a blueprint of the airplane. At the end of each incident, we learn the number of casualties.

The incidents described are:

  • American Airlines Flight 1572 on 12 November 1995: No casualties.
  • American Eagle Flight 4184 on 31 October 1994: All aboard killed.
  • Aeroperu Airlines Flight 603 on 2 October 1996: All abroad killed.
  • United States Air Force Yukla 27 on 22 September 1995: All aboard killed.
  • Japan Airlines Flight 123 on 12 October 1985: Majority of the people killed.
  • United Airlines Flight 232 on 19 July 1989: The majority of the people saved.

As a play, this is old news. It received awards at the New York International Fringe Fest in 2000. The U.S. Department of Defense gave the play a Visual Information Production Award. The Drama Desk Awards gave it an Outstanding Unique Theatrical Experience award in 2000.

The creators got a call from the Pentagon. A taped performance was used for training purposes.

As a movie, “Charlie Victor Romeo” went to Sundance this year (2013) under New Frontier.

How should we judge this? As a play? As a movie? As a documentary? As a movie, this is low budget. We are in a black box listening to what has been recorded by a smaller black box. Controls and panels and uniforms help set the mood. Then it’s the words.

While the conversations begin as mundane, some boring, some flirtatious, the rhythm of the conversations changes. You can even see the sweat forming on the brows of the cast as the desperation mounts. Will you remember this play when you get on your next airplane?

“Charlie Victor Romeo” is a good piece of drama. If the new frontier is theater coming to the movies, then this simple but elegant piece provides something to think about.  Death can come from something as simple as tape or a flock of geese.


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