Section: Arts

Senior thesis “Five Flights” grapples with spiritual identity

Senior thesis “Five Flights” grapples with spiritual identity

The Kenyon College Drama, Dance, and Cinema Club kicked off their 2020 season at the Hill Theater last Friday with a senior thesis production of Adam Bock’s “Five Flights.” Lights went up on Henry Ratliff ’20, who played the role of Ed, displaying a diorama with what would soon become the most divisive element of the show: an aviary.

The aviary is sought after by many. Jane (Maggie Perkins ’20) is Ed’s sister-in-law who wants to sell the property. Adele and Olivia (Hannah Johnston ’20 and Sarah Dailey ’20), Ed’s sister and her best friend, want to convert it into a church for Olivia’s new religion, “the Church of the Fifth Day”.

Ed himself is in a state of uncertainty—eventually wanting to let the “ground bury it while it still breathes.”

The aviary was built by Ed and Adele’s recently deceased father for his late wife, whose soul, he believed, had become a bird. This belief of their father’s becomes controversial among Ed, Adele and their brother Bobby years later, as they try to decide how to deal with the aviary.  “Five Flights” explores familial conflict in a time of mourning and distress.

Through religious preaching, the pursuit of Ed’s love interest, professional hockey player Tom (Teddy Fischer ’22), and comic relief from his best friend Andre (Caleb Stern ‘23), the characters distract themselves from facing their father’s death head-on. 

Adele, due to the tight-knit nature of her relationship with her father, finds herself reminiscing about the way that her father dealt with her mother’s death: obsessing over the birds he would bring into the aviary and doing whatever he could to keep her spirit alive.

Johnston believed that Adele using Olivia’s interest in repurposing the aviary is an act of Adele remembering “how she used to believe in her dad” and that “since he’s died, it shows hope and gives her a reason to believe something else.”

While Adele and Olivia’s pursuit of the aviary seems to be the most unwavering, every family member expresses their desire for the aviary equally through argument filled dialogue, which, to members of the cast, was a reason why they selected “Five Flights” for their senior thesis. 

“I thought it was perfect because it’s by Adam Bock, who really focuses on a group protagonist—so even though the show is Ed’s play, it really explores every character pretty much evenly,” Johnston said.

“Five Flights” explores themes of intense familial conflict, the crossroads of spirituality and death, and the navigation of love and vulnerability. The cast guided the audience through powerful displays of passion and loss with continuous banter throughout the show.

“My character struggles a lot with what to believe in and why you should believe in it,” Johnston said, and this guided narration of siblings coping with their father’s death she feels provokes the question of wondering, “what can religion offer us, how can it hurt us, how can it help us.”

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