Review: "Brace for Impact!" Takes Us on a First-Class Flight

Brace for Impact!

Written by Maia Nikiphoroff

Directed by Devon M. Schwartz

Presented by Always Wild Content at The Tank

312 W. 36th St., Manhattan, NYC

May 19-June 10, 2023

Maia Nikiphoroff. Photo credit: Luigi Morris
Working as a flight attendant might be seen as a kind of constant, non-teleological journey that is in many aspects out of one's control but which will invariably encounter pockets of turbulence. In the new play Brace for Impact!, one can arguably perceive symbolic resonances between flight attendant Shiva's (Maia Nikiphoroff) work and her life. Written by Maia Nikiphoroff, who has worked as a full-time flight attendant herself, and currently in a workshop run at The Tank, Brace for Impact! represents the exciting first stage production from Always Wild Content, a theater, film, and television production company co-founded by Nikiphoroff and partner Austin Iredale with roots in the U.S. and Paraguay and a partnership with Women in Film Paraguay, a non-profit film education mentorship program for young women in Asuncion.
When we are introduced to Shiva, she is sporting an eye patch, for reasons which are eventually and hilariously clarified, and, while she is working yet another flight, her father is being cremated. She is also being dogged by a clown (Alan Ross, in a wonderful non-speaking performance) who may or may not be visible to others. Her name, as she points out, can refer not only to the god of creation and destruction but also the period of mourning in Judaism. And as Shiva reckons with her relationship to her father and who he was, with the accompaniment of more than one airplane-sized bottle of vodka, she also sifts through her past, such as her first solo visit to the gynecologist, and reckons also with her present, whether coming to terms with her mother (an extremely funny Monique Vukovic) as a sexual being, confronting an older cousin (Jorge Sánchez Díaz) for whom she once had romantic feelings, or being expected to speak at her father's funeral. 
Jorge Sánchez Díaz and Maia Nikiphoroff. Photo credit: Luigi Morris
The play is structured as short chapters presented as flights, and Shiva similarly imagines her relationships–friends, relatives, and traumas–as organized in the different levels of a soul-housing Airbus. Some of those traumas are gendered: her husband's view of her as a "precious" thing, for example, in contrast to Shiva and her mother's frank discussions of issues with their bodies, represents a denial of the totality of women's physical embodiment and experience, and another figure comes to represent, in some sense, the various problematic men who have impacted her life. Occasional direct address of audience members or actors seated in the audience increases the sense of intimacy in an already intimate space, and the script's echoes and repetitions weave lyrical connections and unveil new perspectives, culminating in visually and emotionally striking final moments. Through it all and against an effectively minimalist set design, Nikiphoroff commands the stage as the spiky, unabashed, and resilient Shiva. Brace for Impact! marries ribald humor to existential (self-)examination for an experience that is even better than a seat in the exit row.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards 

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