It’s amazing that there is still so much recent history that has been forgotten or even buried by the quest for progress. I grew up knowing the name Sally Ride, my elementary school participated in library research projects to name the next shuttle being built, and even Star Trek had a female captain with Captain Janeway on VOYAGER!. So it’s astonishing (and a bit frustrating) that stories continue to be unveiled showing the brave, bold, and brilliant women who worked to enrich the space program only to be sidelined in the history books. THEY PROMISED HER THE MOON, now playing at The Old Globe through May 12th is a lovely portrayal of a young woman who chose to defy the expectations of her based on her sex and shoot for the moon.
Jerrie Cobb (Morgan Hallett) is a young woman who dreams of flight from the time she was a little girl. Even at six years old she looked up to Amelia Earhart ,and her father Harvey (Michael Pemberton) who encouraged Jerrie’s aspirations. Jerrie’s mother Helena (Lanna Joffrey) tries to keep her daughter’s dreams more grounded; like baking a good pie so she can one day find a husband.
When Jerrie is asked to participate in the same testing the male NASA astronauts did to show that women were also capable of space travel she leaps at the chance and quickly outpaces them by large margins. This research is led by Dr. William Randolph Lovelace (Matthew Boston) and partially funded by Jackie Cochran (Mary Beth Fisher) who had considerable influence, funds, and notoriety for pushing the military to form the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corp, and by being the first woman to break the sound barrier.
The first act starts with Jerrie coming in for testing in the floating isolation tank, allowing Jerrie to reminisce about her time with her parents, learning how to fly, and working with the handsome Jack Ford (Peter Rini) who took a chance and hired her for his airplane ferrying business during the war.
This is an excellent cast, with many switching between multiple characters as the scenes blend seamlessly into each other. Directed by Giovanna Sardelli the cast is a tight ensemble that also allows each member moments to shine.
Hallett is excellent as the fiercely determined Jerrie, who is more at home in the sky than she is on terra firma. She seamlessly changes ages and demeanors as the scenes transition from adulthood, to childhood, and back again. The audience feels her sincerity, her drive, and her frustration.
Fisher is a winning combination of brash, ballsy, and beautiful as Jackie Cochran. Funny and charming at one moment, and shrewd and calculating at the next, Fisher is the perfect persona of a woman who used her status as an outstanding woman in aviation to open doors for female pilots not to advance women, but to make sure she was the first one through the door.
Joffrey is very funny as Jerrie’s exasperated and thoroughly domesticated mother, Pemberton is warm and supportive as her father, and Boston makes a poignant emotional impact in the second act. Rini is charming as Ford, and annoyingly perfect and unsupportive as John Glenn. During Congressional hearings.
Playwright Laura Ollstein peppers the dialogue with actual quotes from reports and congressional hearings, painting a thorough picture of just what odds Jerrie and the other women of the Mercury 13 project were facing in their endeavors.
Set design by Jo Winiarski is lovely and streamlined, with a creative use of drawers for quick prop and scene changes. The period appropriate costume design by Denitsa Bliznakova, the lighting by Cat Tat Starmer, and sound design by Jane Shawe help support and build out this world.
The momentum of the first act is a bit lost during the second by the nature of the historical events being told. After all women didn’t go into space until decades later so the heartbreak seems inevitable; yet Jerrie’s journey afterwards is an interesting way to reshape your life when things don’t go your way. As the play states, sometimes “It’s all about timing.”
It also invites the question: how much further could we have advanced if we had not disqualified those based on by race, gender, or creed, but instead given those who were qualified what they had earned?
THEY PROMISED HER THE MOON is just like Jerrie, imaginative, personal, fun, , adventurous, and at times understated but packs a punch.
THEY PROMISED HER THE MOON is playing at The Old Globe through May 12th. For ticket and show time information go to www.theoldglobe.org