Sky Girls, Northlight Theatre. Jenny Laird's lovely new play revolves around five female pilots stationed on a Texas air base during World War II--part of the WASPs, a little-known female corps disbanded in 1944, less than two years after its inception. But though Laird's play communicates history well, it's not just a history lesson: her five women are smart, independent, and very funny. Under incredible pressure--air force men sabotaged the women's aircraft and fired at their planes with live ammunition during "training drills"--the WASPs came together under the command of Jackie Cochran (Lia Mortensen), the pilot who founded the volunteer corps.
The strongest character is Mags (a feisty Jen Engstrom), a wisecracking Chicagoan suspicious of men. Lil (Julie Ganey), a steel magnolia from Tennessee, creates a new life after flying a plane gives her a taste of independence. DeLang (Ana Sferruzza in a nicely understated performance) is a poet who explores new emotional country through haiku. The trusting Breeny (Paula Stevens) is a farm girl who falls giddily in love. Only the crucial character of Bishop (an intense Michele Graff) isn't fully rounded; her characterization as a loner later in the play doesn't fit her wry, engaged persona at the beginning, undermining the resonance of the tragic end.
B.J. Jones's direction is sparkling, and sound designer Lindsay Jones effectively re-creates the buzz of an airfield. Scenic designer Todd Rosenthal's cockpitlike barracks are charming, especially the fans that spin like propellers whenever planes take off.