Bridget Carpenter's play "Up," now having its East coast premiere at Syracuse Stage, proves the proposition that one man's visionary is another man's nut case.
Carpenter based the character Walter (Todd Jefferson Moore) on a real person, Larry Walters, who achieved his life-time dream of ascending high into the sky in a contraption of his own devising. Three miles high, in fact -- seated in an ordinary lawn chair to which he had attached 40 very large, helium-filled balloons. He deflated the balloons with a B.B. gun and landed unharmed, if ignominiously, caught up in some electrical wires six feet from the ground.
Much like James Thurber's fantasizing protagonist in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," Carpenter's Walter is an endearingly inept bumbler in his everyday life. His first job, at the age of 10, was picking up the dog-do left by his neighbor's pet. He's had pretty much the same opinion of all other possible modes of regular employment ever since. He continues to tinker happily away in his basement, hoping to devise something that not only works but that someone might actually want.
Walter's fantasy life is inhabited by another person Carpenter has incorporated into her play from real life: the amazing tight-rope walker, Philippe Petit (Christopher Duval), who performed the daring feat of walking from one of the World Trade Center towers to the other and back. In this production, capably directed by Penny Metropulos, the Philippe Petit we see is a caricature of a Frenchman as Walter would have imagined him, saying things like "Zee birrd does not carry zee wallet." Crossing with his balance beam on a walkway high at the rear of the stage, Petit is one of Carpenter's inspired touches. There are scenes, aided by the translucent sky-high panels of Michael V. Sim's set, that give us a taste of the exhilaration Walter must have felt during his lawn-chair adventure.