Captain Ferguson's School for Balloon Warfare

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    August 1, 2011

    Review by Tulis McCall

    This is a misguided labor of love. That’s because it is a story about passion that has been parsed into facts.

    Passion is seductive by its nature. It doesn’t matter what the subject. I recently had a woman from my landlord’s office in my apartment ferreting out plumbing leaks. She listened to my toilet and thumped my faucets all the while carrying on a monologue about why leaks must, must, must be stopped. I wanted to follow her all day just to be around that energy.

    Captain Thomas Ferguson was the first and perhaps the only person to see the value of what we now call blimps in warfare. In WWI, he convinced the military types to let him have a squadron or whatever they were called – a bunch – of men to train to pilot these enormous air ships and use them in Europe. He also had a team that drove the jeeps to which the balloons were tethered. Then there were the people that tended to the ships and the men. All in all each balloon needed over a hundred people. It was an enormous undertaking and required determination and passion of enormous proportion.

    Ferguson was successful, even though the ships turned out to have mixed results as instruments of war. And in the rare moments when we are allowed to see his passion flat out this is a captivating story. David Nelson is both intriguing and sincere in his work. He is a total pleasure to watch. He is best when he gets a bit lost in his own determination that the humor blends with odd bits - like the perfect weight of a pilot (148 pounds) and the need to give up smoking, and the irrelevance of the Wright Brothers when it comes to accuracy in the air.

    And while Isaac Rathbone has certainly does his homework, he confuses passion with facts. There are simply too many facts for us to soak up in what turns out to be a mini-course in aeronautical history with a murky conclusion.

    It is the weird bits of human nature that attract us. And it would appear that Ferguson has these in spades - would that we could have seen them.

    (Tulis McCall)

    "Its climactic episode... At once triumphant and tragic... gives the evening a gravitas that makes it more than just a lot of hot air."
    Frank Scheck for New York Post

    "For ... brief moments "Captain Ferguson" is airborne, but too much of the play remains earthbound."
    David Sheward for Back Stage

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Post - Back Stage