Written by Arthur Kopit
Directed by John Doyle
Starring Jan Maxwell, Teagle F. Bougere, Beth Dixon, Adam Heller, January LaVoy, Anne L. Nathan, Michael Warner
Performances through November 21, 2010
Second Stage Theater, 307 West 43rd Street
Arthur Kopit’s 1978 drama Wings powerfully dramatizes the story of Emily Stilson, a 1920s aviatrix whose incapacitating stroke was followed by intensive therapy. Kopit’s short (65 minutes) play is essentially a monologue for the actress playing Stilson, with conversations between her, doctors, therapists and other patients interspersed.
With such strong material at his disposal, director John Doyle has the tools to create a spellbinding evening of theater. However, although Jan Maxwell gives her all as Stilson, arrestingly elucidating how she attempts to overcome the barriers her injured brain has erected, Doyle’s staging remains disappointingly remote.
With exquisite tact, Maxwell easily handles Kopit’s dialogue, filled with tongue twisters and nonsense phrases that show how scrambled was Stilson’s brain after her stroke. But Doyle’s infelicitous directing overloads on what the script asks for in visualizing Stilson’s sensory confusion, particularly the mirrors that the cast members playing doctors and nurses march around the stage. A little of this goes a long way, but Doyle doesn’t trust his script and lead actress, and so fills the stage with repetitious busyness instead.
Doyle’s undistinguished supporting cast further lessens the dramatic impact of Stilson’s eventual recovery. Still, Wings remains a first-rate psychological study, and Maxwell finds the strength to get through one of the most demanding roles of her career.