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Flight attendant's show looks at the comical side of flying

For more than 20 years, Minneapolis native Rene Foss has been a flight attendant for Northwest Airlines, but before she followed in her mother's footsteps, she aspired to become an actress.

Now, with her own one-woman touring show, Foss is tackling the comedic aspects of flying — but without commenting on any airline in particular.

"Around the World in a Bad Mood" is scheduled for a four-week engagement in the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center's Leona Wagner Black Box Theatre, and Foss stopped by the Deseret Morning News to chat about it.

Seeing her big, happy smile, you wonder where the "bad mood" part of the show kicks in. (One Los Angeles reviewer quipped that her last name should be Floss, not Foss.)

"Anyone who has traveled even once by air will enjoy this," she said, "but others can also relate to it."

Her show is a humorous look at the airline industry at large — an industry that has changed considerably from the "glamour days" of the 1950s, when her mother was a stewardess for Northwest Orient Airlines. "Back then they were wearing white gloves. There were preflight cocktail parties, and the in-flight meal might be lobster thermador."

And the art of self-defense has replaced the art of polite conversation. "I always wanted to be an actress, but my dad wanted me to have a day job with benefits. I am a member of the Screen Actors Guild, but I haven't done anything recognizable, which is what spurred me to write 'Around the World in a Bad Mood."'

What eventually evolved into the current one-woman comedy began as a five-person musical revue, with roles featuring some of her friends, and piano accompaniment by Michael McFrederick. Then Disney's Hyperion Books approached her about penning a book based on the play (it was published in 2002).

In the meantime, Richard Frankel Productions, which has produced such Broadway blockbusters as "The Producers" and "Hairspray," suggested she turn the revue into a one-woman play. The retooled version made its debut at the renowned Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, and it's also played in Melbourne, Fla., and at the Minnesota Fringe Festival in her hometown of Minneapolis.

Foss said that her touring schedule is flexible enough that she can schedule shows around her full-time airline job. "I had so much fear and pressure (when she initially contemplated performing a one-woman show), and the show has continued to evolve. It changed a lot after 9/11. But I'm having a lot of fun with it. I can get away with things onstage that I can't do on the plane. It's therapeutic."

Foss' 90-minute show touches on such things as in-flight debacles, pistol-packing pilots and a brief, historical (or is that hysterical?) overview of the "stewardess" profession. "There's no escaping both the drama and the comedy you find on a plane."

For one bit, she entices an audience member to come up onstage, where Foss takes on the role of a stern flight-attendant supervisor evaluating the other person's looks and attitude. She also addresses safety-belt presentations, and all audience members will receive free packets of pretzels.

There's also a tastefully handled look a the striptease act, better known as running the gantlet of preflight security.

Part of the inspiration for the show comes from her mother. "Before she got married, she was a schoolteacher in North Dakota. She and her sister saw an ad for flight attendants. She wanted to see the world, so they headed to Minneapolis. She had a slight blemish on her face and was told that, although she was the right weight and height, she wasn't 'perfect' enough to become a stewardess.

"They headed back home but were stalled by a snowstorm. After spending the night in Minneapolis, she want to Dayton's Department Store and got some makeup to cover the scar. She was hired on the spot."

Foss books her own performances of the touring show. Currently, she's focusing on cities where there are major airline hubs. The show has attracted quite a bit of interest within the airline industry.

The fictional company in her play is WAFTI — We Apologize for This Inconvenience Airlines. She's performed the show at several corporate affairs, including gatherings sponsored by Braniff Airlines' "Clipped Wings" group, Delta Air Lines' "Silver Wings" and several other travel-industry entities.

But Foss said "Around the World in a Bad Mood" will give the general public a chance to see "what goes on behind the curtain that separates the passengers from the flight attendants."

If you go

What: "Around the World in a Bad Mood"

Where: Rose Wagner Center

When: Tuesday through Nov. 11

How much: $30-$35

Phone: 355-2787