For the past quarter-century, Theatre Columbus co-artistic director Martha Ross has sailed the theatrical seas in search of that rare creature, serious comedy.
Now the company takes to the skies with Ross's And Up They Flew, a humorous play with sombre overtones that looks at no less ambitious a topic than the 20th century.
Trained along with her partner, Leah Cherniak, by French master Jacques Lecoq, Ross learned that the most truthful storytelling often blends laughter and tears. Using that axiom, Theatre Columbus has created dozens of impressive shows, ranging from new works like The Attic, The Pearls And 3 Fine Girls to adaptations of Shakespeare, Ibsen and Chekhov.
"No matter how serious a work is, we keep playing and investigating all the emotions, flirting with the edge between laughter and seriousness," says Ross. "It's exciting to take a sad moment and make it light."
Set in a British country house in 1936, And Up They Flew brings together a woman who wants to be the first female to complete a solo transatlantic flight, her friend who dreams of flying without any mechanical devices, a war-shocked vet and a nonagenarian who sees through everyone else's lies.
"It's a farce, but one that tackles the ills of the 20th century. The First World War and the ensuing peace treaty that carved up the world projected us into existential despair," says the playwright.
"But with that tension came a sense of the absurd: the Marx Brothers, Beckett and a new freedom of expression. All the characters are paralyzed, trapped in their lives, but there's the potential for release if they just learn to stop denying what's happening and get on with living."
This production will be the last for Ross and Cherniak as company heads; they've turned the reins over to collaborator Jennifer Brewin.
"We're confident in Jennifer - she gets us and what we're trying to do. And we're not going away; we're working on a sequel to Attic."
So Theatre Columbus isn't going into dry dock; it's just sailing under a new captain.