Melissa Beckwith gives a striking performance in UDM Theatre Company's production of "Wings." Photo: Greg Grobis
Detroit Mercy Theatre's 'Wings' Soars
By John Quinn
Originally printed 2/14/2013 (Issue 2107 - Between The Lines News)
"Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone." Joni Mitchell sang that line in "Big Yellow Taxi." Few things will hammer her observation home like the sudden onset of debilitation. In Arthur Kopit's poetic "Wings," stroke victim Emily Stilson ponders what's gone - independence, communication, fundamental balance.
Balance is key to understanding Emily's struggle with panic and paranoia in this compelling one act, performed by The University of Detroit Mercy Theatre Company. Emily had been a daredevil, a "wing walker," performing death-defying stunts on the upper wing of a biplane. The stroke paralyzes her right side and damages her speech center. Confined in a wheel chair, Emily has also developed "aphasia." She has lost the linkage between thought and speech. Her frustrating attempts to talk to her rehabilitation experts result in gibberish. Can she, to crib another line from pop music, "take these broken wings and learn to fly" - again?
Although "Wings" made Kopit a Pulitzer Prize finalist and garnered a Tony nomination in 1978, originally it was a radio play for the NPR drama project, "Earplay." That context illuminates this production's staging. Melinda Pasha's scenic design is stark, an empty stage upon which set pieces appear only when needed. It is backed by a reflective screen that reflects Rudy Schuepbach's somber mood lighting. The intimate scenes are played in pools of light, and the focus is literally on Emily, since she is onstage for almost the entire show. Also noteworthy is sound designer Mathew Lira's contribution. Not only is Emily's experience sparked by random noises and fragments of music, the sound track reflects her inner monologue, which is so different from what she can articulate.
It takes a rare actor to pull this complex performance together, and director David L. Regal turned to associate guest artist Melissa Beckwith. Without gesture or blocking available, she conveys emotion by subtle expression and convincing delivery of the verbal nonsense that is all Emily has left.
Her performance is striking.
The Theatre Company provides drama students with the opportunity to work with professional directors and associate guest artists. It's an advantage that should be seized for all it's worth. Because this was originally a radio play, scenes are justifiably static and voice is paramount in defining character. Given how pivotal Emily Stilson is, this is the opportunity for the supporting players to give us some unique characters. They need only follow the lead of the admirable Dr. Arthur J. Beer. In what amounts to a cameo as Mr. Brownstein, he projects a fully developed character while working under the burden of an assumed speech impediment. Beckwith and Beer, along with Joel Frazee, turn a long scene of speech therapy into a gentle comic gem.
"Wings" is a thought-provoking theatrical event, contemplation on the strength of the human spirit. In the end, the message is not, "be thankful for what you've got," but "where there's a will, there's a way." That's not a bad lesson to take away from the theater.
University of Detroit Mercy Theatre Company at Marygrove College Theatre, 8425 W. McNichols Road, Detroit. 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday & 2 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 17. 80 minutes; no intermission. $10-20. 313-993-3270. http://Theatre.UDMercy.edu
- Animal Shelter
- Humane Society of Huron Valley
- Franklin Auto Service
- EMDR Therapy
- Home Inspectors
- Widman Home Services, Inc.
- Allstate Insurance Co
- Music Groups
- Equality Band of Michigan
- National Organizations
- The Print Stop
- Religious & Spiritual
- Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion
- Oakland University Dept. of Music, Theatre & Dance
Enter contests to win great prizes like CDs, DVDs, concert tickets and more
- Q&A: Annie Lennox On Her Legacy, Why Beyonce Is 'Feminist Lite'
- Q&A: Getting To The Core Of Nick Jonas: Abs, Album & That Gay Striptease 'They Made Me Do'
- GOP Hopeful Wants 'Christians' Fleeing MI If Gays Get Civil Rights
- Creep of the Week: Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder
- Q&A: Jenny McCarthy Talks Feminism, Feeling Trans 'Inside' & Sticking To Her Truth
Sign up to receive our weekly newsletters today!
In a Sept. 27 op-ed in the Detroit News, conservative Republican columnist Nolan Finley raised serious concerns about three Republican candidates running for the state house Nov. 4. Todd Courser of Lapeer, Cindy Gamrat of Plainwell and Gary Glenn of Midland -- all correctly identified by Finley as a "trio (who) seeks tea party tyranny." Nolan describes Glenn and Courser as "extremely anti-gay (who) would turn the Republican Party into a fundamentalist denomination of the Christian Church if given the chance." Finley warned that the trio's narrow views on the Legislature could cripple the government and its ability to work across the aisle to move the state forward. Their agenda also includes killing any expansion of the Elliot-Larsen act to include LGBT protections.View More Pride Source Votes
This Week's Issue
Download or view this week's print issue today!
Sign up to receive our weekly newsletters today!