The title of Keith Reddin's play Human Error refers to more than one type of what the dictionary defines as an "unintentional mistake." Miranda (Tasha Lawrence) and Erik (Matt Walton) are NTSB representatives, working a crash scene where a plane suddenly plunged into a field, killing all on board and a woman taking a walk with her husband. Obviously, human error is one possible cause of the crash; it's also a possible cause of the crashing of Miranda and Erik's romantic relationship, which develops just as quickly as it dissolves.
The crash story runs parallel to the relationship story, with poignant scenes with the dead woman's husband Ron (Ray Anthony Thomas) frequently linking the two together. It's an interesting, if not immediately obvious, pairing of stories, made all the more compelling by superb performances by the trio of actors.
Lawrence perks up an audience right from the get-go (as she did in the City's 2005 production of Bad Dates). She is a real natural, and she wraps herself around every bit of dialog she's given, much of it already funny, smart and real. Lawrence is simply a joy to watch. And she is well matched by Walton as Erik, who comes on full force in his pursuit of Miranda, while she tries to wriggle her way out, though a tad reluctantly. Sparks fly early on, and the two actors make their plunge believable and delightful. That the audience can get so involved is what sets us up to feel our stomachs drop as things change later in the play.
Thomas wears the role of Ron like a tailor-made glove (he played the part Off-Broadway, but I'm guessing he was just as good in that early foray as he is here). Ron, completely stunned by grief, is open to talking about his wife. It's amazing how much we learn about their relationship in the brief scenes - credit to Reddin, Thomas and director Tracy Brigden.
In fact, this is probably one of the most compact and air-pocket-free plays I've ever seen. No time wasted, every line of banter and dialog part of the dense fabric of the play. With each (frequent but brief) blackout, I took a breath - it seemed I hadn't done so during the scenes. Reddin, Brigden and cast create a heightened level of attentiveness from the audience.
As we've come to expect, it's a good looking production: Luke Hegel-Cantarella's thankfully unfussy and handy set is lit nicely by Jeff Croiter; Eric Shim holds that level with his sound design.
Human Error is one of those small plays that, in the City's production at least, really satisfies.
Human Error continues through May 10 at the City Theatre. For performance and ticket information, call 412.431.CITY (2489) or visit www.citytheatrecompany.org/.