The Center Of Gravity, or, The Disinvention of the Airplane

by Gregory Hischak
directed by Paul Mullins
originally produced at Portland Stage, Portland, ME.
March 1, 2011 through March 20, 2011

About the Premiere Production:

What if the Wright Brothers historic attempt at flight failed? The Center of Gravity looks at Orville and Wilbur Wright from a new perspective, using mechanical engineering, magic realism, and a little Abbott & Costello to tell the story of brothers and inventors, power and betrayal, and of course, flight. The plot, whose details are entirely fictional, takes off from Wilbur’s death in a plane crash during a failed experiment at manned flight in 1903. Though more beloved by the boys’ Mother, it seems clear that Wilbur is not the brains behind the invention. Orville, his methodical but less charming brother, falls in love with an ambitious young woman, Margot, with a degree in mathematics. After they are married, Margot has an affair with Wilbur, and uses this intimacy to convince Wilbur to let her secretly supply the mathematical theories supporting the brothers’ experiments. After Wilbur’s crash and death, it would appear that Orville knew about the affair and sabotaged the plane to cause Wilbur’s death, as well as that Margot’s son, Charlie, is actually Wilbur’s child not Orville’s. Eventually, the many paths of the storyline blend together in Orville’s memories, forming a tragicomic meditation on invention, betrayal and memory.

Artistic Statement

From Anita Stewart, Executive & Artistic Director:
I believe it is vital that new play development infuse the heart and soul of theaters in a variety of communities across the country instead of being relegated to large cities or giant festivals. I feel it is essential that our audiences be invited to participate in the scary, messy, exhilarating process of bringing a new work to life, and that writers get the opportunity to see the impact of their work on a community. Living and working in a small community, I am aware of the impact new work development can have for my audiences and I know what insight those audiences can, in turn, impart to a playwright.

Gregory Hischak’s The Center of Gravity will be a fantastic addition to our Mainstage season. It is wonderful to be in a position to help Gregory reach a wider audience, both regionally and with any luck, nationally. He is a fantastic writer; his work deserves to be better known. I am glad that we will have the opportunity to expand our relationship and work with him at a more refined level producing a full scale production.

In Maine, it is difficult to find the resources necessary to allow for such development. When we look at our primary source of income—box office revenue—a new play typically brings in a fraction of what a well-known title can generate, so opting to promote new work is a financial challenge. Support from the Edgerton helps to underwrite the additional rehearsal time with the playwright in house that all of us know a new play needs and deserves. Support from the Edgerton lets Portland Stage and our audiences continue to be involved in the process of creating something new, unique and individual that can continue to live for years to come.

From Gregory Hischak, Playwright:
I am tremendously pleased that The Center of Gravity will have its world premiere with the Portland Stage Company. My growing up in Dayton Ohio and the ubiquitous presence of the Wright Brothers there planted the seed to this work early on, and the writing and re-writing of Gravity has been a labor of love to me for several years. Even with their names and images plastered over everything from street signs to dry cleaners—few people there, when gazing at the brothers’ visages, can identify which brother is Orville and which is Wilbur. In fact it was the bland teflon nature of these inventing brothers, and their demand for some fleshing out, that pulled me into writing for the stage. Over its evolution The Center of Gravity has grown from a short vaudeville on mistaken identities to a broader meditation on invention and sibling rivalry. It is not a simple story to stage and asks the audience to engage in piecing together the lives of two very different brothers. The Center of Gravity is not about flight, or Dayton Ohio, or even about a specific time period in American history. It is a fantasia on memory and risk but remains grounded in basic human concerns—love, jealousy, glory and death. The Portland Stage Company’s history of experimentation and collaboration with playwrights make them tremendously suited to continue the evolution of this work and I very much look forward to delving into the process of staging Gravity with them.

Director: Paul Mullins
Set Design: Anita Stewart

News

'The Center of Gravity' hits lofty heights
The Times Record, March 18, 2011

Flight of Fancy
The Portland Press Herald, March 6, 2011

Theater Review: Witty 'Gravity' dazzles as it revisualizes pioneers of flight
The Portland Press Herald, March 6, 2011

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