Gainesville’s Hippodrome Theatre opened its 37th season, with Bridget Carpenter’s play UP (not to be confused with the recent Pixar movie by the same name.) The playwright drew her inspiration from the real life story of Lawn Chair Larry Walters. In 1982, this 33 year old truck driver purchased an $11 lawn chair from Sears, 45 weather balloons at a cost of about $200 dollars, and a tank of helium from a toy balloon company. He launched himself into the air for about 45 minutes, to a height of 16,000 feet, was saved from death by getting tangled in power lines. When he made it to the ground, his brief moment of fame earned him a $1,500 fine from the Federal Aviation Agency.
In Carpenter’s play, Larry is known as Walter Griffin (brilliantly played by Tod Zimmerman) and it is 16 years later. Walter is married to Helen (Beth Hylton), a hard working US postal worker who supports the family since Walter still has his head in the sky, and dreams of finding opportunities with new inventions. He occupies his time sketching but never selling his contraptions to anyone.
His 15 year old son Mikey (Dylan Kammerer) is a teenage loner who hates school and wants to quit and get a job. He befriends a high school newcomer, 16 year old Maria (Jennifer Smith), who is six months pregnant and living with her Aunt Chris (Sara Morsey). Mikey’s life changes dramatically as he falls in love with Maria, begins to work part-time for the aunt in telephone sales, and finds himself quite successful.
The final character in the show is Philippe Petit (Matthew Lindsay). He was the famous tightrope walker who once walked between the Twin Towers in New York, and is Walter’s imagined idol.
The play has a number of scenes that involve family conflicts, many of them funny, and several rather surprising so I will not reveal them here. Director Lauren Caldwell could not have cast this show any better and the performances were outstanding.
The play seems to have two endings in my opinion. One shows all that could go wrong and does and hints at the future for all except Mikey. His future appears cloudy and uncertain. The second is implied in the final scene on stage, a flashback to the day Walter launched himself into the air.
The set by Michael Eaddy is unique. Dozens of blue and white helium balloons surround the Hippodrome stage. On the left a kitchen table and chairs represent Walter’s home, and on the right a single overstuffed chair represents Aunt Chris and Maria’s home. As the play progresses, subtitles appear above the stage informing the audience of the location of each scene and who is in each (e.g., Walter’s kitchen, Helen, Mikey and Walter). The lighting design by Joshua Allen was excellent. (If you saw Beauty and The Beast at Wilson Center in Jacksonville this summer, you saw a sample of his talent as he assisted in the lighting design).
The play was thought provoking and I am sure all of us can see or have seen people in life who seem to live in a dream world and thus affect those around them.
If superb acting is what you appreciate in theatre, then you will find it in abundance in this marvelous production. Be forewarned, there is some earthy language in this show.
UP will be on stage until September 27th at the Hippodrome in downtown Gainesville. Order tickets by phone at (352) 375-HIPP, or online at thehipp.org or by mail at 25 SE 2nd Place, Gainesville 32601. The Hipp’s very exciting new season includes MINDGAME by Anthony Horowitz on opening October l6, DEAD MAN’S CELL PHONE by Sarah Ruhl on January 8, DEFIANCE by John Patrick Shanley on February 26 and AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS adapted by Mark Brown April l6.
A side note, the real Lawn Chair Larry, never married, and made some public appearances after his “flight”. At the age of 44, in l993, he committed suicide by gunshot.


april, 2022