Billy Bishop Goes to War
By John Gray with Eric Peterson
Directed by Eric Zivot
Musical Direction by Philip King
Starring Timothy Williams
Mad Cow Theater, Orlando Fla.
Periodically we send off a few million of our best and brightest to kill off a few million of the other guys best and brightest. It keeps the population in check, I guess, and it provides endless tales of bravery and murder old men tell to their grandchildren Billy Bishop’s (Williams) progress from failing cavalry officer to top Air Ace is as brave and bloodless as any, but it’s never boring. Bishop began his career as a cavalry officer riding hoses thought the mud and nearly being drummed out for lying and cheating in military school. To his generation the war seemed like huge fun and they hoped it wouldn’t end too soon. They got their wish, and while pulling his horse out of the mud Bishop spots his first airplane. A drunken conversation clues him in; soon he’s flitting about the sky as an observer and then a pilot. His attitude toward war wanders around, he ranges from disgusted to overjoyed at the opportunity to killing Germans, even though he never actually met one. All this blood and death leads to a chest full of medals and congratulations from the King himself. Amazingly, Billy dies of old age with 72 kills to his name.
While musical director King pianos his way through the show, this Williams” tour de force evening. He does all the storytelling; drinking and singing and building airplanes out of bar stools to demonstrate his escapades. There’s an old truism in aviation: “You can’t tell a flying story without using your hands” and he even has a few models to demonstrate his Top Gun skills. The songs are old timey and sentimental, the beer is alcohol free, and none of it seems real until you go home and look up the Arras Front than Lewis guns and Bishop’s record. Behind Williams’ charm and sparkle lies as morally ambiguity a story as you could tell, and the sort of thing that would encourage small boys from a rural town to sign up for death and glory. Bishop was the lucky one, medals and honors and a whole play written about him, but the odds, well, they are against most ordinary men.
For more information on Mad Cow, please visit http://www.madcowtheatre.com