In today’s world of one-click vacation packages and sites like Expedia and Kayak, the travel agent is a strange, almost mythic anachronism. Who even frequents travel agents anymore? Do you really need to go through a person to book that trip to China you’ve always wanted to go on, or fulfill a task on your bucket-list that requires not only a flight to Morocco, but also lunch at Rick’s Café Américain?
Andy Sandberg and Greg Edwards’s Craving For Travel provides answers to these questions by bringing to life the wonderfully quirky and/or very confused people who still use travel agents. From an elderly couple planning their “last hurrah” to a frightened, young woman on her honeymoon, these characters’ lives are intimately connected to the agents, who find themselves in positions in which their job descriptions extend far beyond the simple booking of flights, hotels, and Jamaican scuba adventures.
These interpersonal connections between agents and their clients are what producer and travel agent himself Jim Strong wanted to highlight when he approached Sandberg and Edwards with an idea for a play and his travel book, Craving For Travel. The result is a hilarious two-person show that sometimes feels like an infomercial promoting travel agents and putting down sites like Travelocity, while simultaneously being a genuine expression of the beauty of human interaction and its importance in the travel industry.
This extremely entertaining production, also directed by Sandberg, pits two highly successful luxury travel agents against each other, in a friendly—though not without some close-to-home bickering—battle to win the esteemed Global Prize, awarded only to the best name in the travel biz. Michele Ragusa and Thom Sesma are outstanding as 30 different characters, including a hodgepodge of wacky clients and suppliers, and as the two formerly married travel agents, Joanne and Gary, who have no choice but to give the best service possible.
Ragusa and Sesma seamlessly slide from one character to the next, never stumbling over their words or getting tongue-tied as they go from a Russian accent to a Jamaican accent, and onto a stellar impression of Patty Lupone. The actors have incredible stage chemistry and are an absolute treat to watch as they nail this crazy feat of a performance. As Joanne and Gary, they are hilarious, teasing each other as only two people who have been married, are now divorced and are still friends can. Their complicated relationship is made even more so by the fact that they are rivals in their industry, and they both have something to prove. As Joanne and Gary’s clients, however, Ragusa and Sesma really shine. Needless to say, it is difficult to convince an audience that you are someone’s former husband, their current love interest and their very flamboyant client who lives on the Upper East Side and is asking for a passport for his dog to go see his dying mother in Russia, but Sesma and Ragusa do it all.
Craving for Travel is aimed at an audience who either remember having travel agents, or still do have them. While some of the jokes are current—a reference to Citi Bikes and Carrie Underwood’s controversial casting as Maria Von Trappe—some of the jokes are slightly outdated, relying on racial stereotypes and bordering on the corny.
If anything, Jim Strong’s production puts into perspective the kinds of jobs that are disappearing with the advent of new technologies. While emphasizing the importance of human connection in the travel industry, Craving For Travel is a self-aware reflection of the challenges that agents face when competing with the Internet and people’s own ability (or likely disability) to book their own perfect vacation. The play will not convince enough people to pick up the phone rather then click on the gnome, but as a tribute to a somewhat bygone industry it is very funny, heartfelt and extremely entertaining.