Charles Lindbergh's achievement would still be remarkable today: He flew from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, to France without sleeping—a total of 33½ hours—finding the landing strip without the aid of GPS. Beating out more expensive planes, "Lucky Lindy" made the first solo flight across the Atlantic in an aircraft of his own design called The Spirit of St. Louis.
This shy farm boy became one of the earliest modern celebrities. Lindbergh's renown began when 150,000 Frenchmen mobbed him at Le Bourget Field in Paris. Over 128 songs were written in his honor, and the "Lone Eagle," as he was called, rode in more than a thousand miles of parades. One of the more recent tributes was "A Life in a Day: Lucky Lindy" by Dick D. Zigun, a madcap play opening at the Bridge Street Theater in Catskill on April 14.
But Lindbergh's life was not all accolades. Tragedy struck in 1932 when his young son was kidnapped, and later murdered, in New Jersey. In the late `30s, a weird combination of pacifism, isolationism, and respect for Hitler led Lindbergh to oppose America's involvement in World War II. When America did enter the war, Lindbergh volunteered for the Armed Forces, but FDR turned him down.
Though it seems impossible to depict the Lone Eagle's story in a small theater, Zigun finds ways to transform a stage into the Atlantic Ocean. A model airplane stands in for The Spirit of St. Louis. The Lindbergh baby is played by a raw egg. The Titanic sinks in an aquarium. "It's a technique I call 'tabletop theater,'" Zigun explains. "It's almost a postmodern version of ventriloquism where, without puppetry, you allow a toy airplane to talk."
Molly Parker Myers and Steven Patterson perform over 100 roles in the play, including cross-dressing. Director John Sowle must keep track of it all. Luckily, Sowle and Patterson are pros, having organized acting companies in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Manhattan before opening the Bridge Street Theater in 2014. Molly Parker Myers is an actress, puppeteer, cabaret singer and clown, performing extensively in the Hudson Valley.
Zigun was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the home of P. T. Barnum, and went on to emulate the great showman. As a child Zigun accompanied his father, a used-furniture dealer, to auctions and sales, and became fascinated with ephemera of the American past. He attended Bennington College, then pursued an MFA at the Yale School of Drama. Searching for a topic for his thesis play, Zigun remembered souvenirs of Lindbergh's flight that he saw as a child. "Lucky Lindy" went on to win the Kazan Award for best new play of 1978.
Zigun is a major figure in the reinvention of Brooklyn. In 1980, he opened Coney Island USA, the umbrella organization for his sideshow, the Coney Island Museum, a film festival, and a sideshow school. In 1983 Zigun initiated the Mermaid Parade. What began as a work of performance art has become a yearly spectacle drawing a throng of 800,000. Zigun was given the honorific title "Mayor of Coney Island."
Sideshows by the Sea is an actual sideshow, with bearded ladies, sword swallowers, fire eaters, and a "human pincushion." It's also a legitimate theater, and one of the earliest sites of "neoburlesque," a variant on striptease influenced by feminism and modern dance. Zigun explains his theory of theater: "I don't trust an audience that sits quietly in the dark. In my own version of Brechtian alienation, I prefer visceral reaction—making an audience applaud or scream or gasp or vomit."
"A Life in a Day: Lucky Lindy" by Dick D. Zigun will be at the Bridge Street Theater in Catskill April 14-24. (518) 943-3894; Bridgest.org.