In her youth she flew airplanes and walked on their wings. Now she is old and suffering from a stroke. The way she sees it, recovery from the stroke is more of a challenge than walking on the wings, and almost as much of a thrill.
This is the story of Arthur Kopit's "Wings." As produced for National Public Radio's "Earplay" series, "Wings" is a fascinating aural adventure. It was first heard in this form last year and will be repeated tonight on WAMU-FM (88.5).
But that isn't the end of "Wings." On the heels of staged versions at two other theaters, the Kennedy Center has now scheduled "Wings for a four-week run beginning around Christmas. The center will be one stop on a pre-Broadway tour for a production that was originally intended to open in New York this week. The show was diverted to the road after the New York newspaper strike closed many of New York's normal publicity channels.
Those who have heard "Wings" on the radio probably will be curious to see it on the stage. So much of it takes place inside an old woman's mind that the challenge of expanding her consciousness to cover a large theater would seem rather formidable. On the other hand, the visual dimension of her memories of the old days could be wonderful to watch.
"Wings" begins with Emily Stilson's stroke, then shifts to her painstaking process to find out what happened, to learn again how to speak, to learn again who she is. Images from her past recur in her mind, and she compares the whole process of recovery to the sensation of flying blindly through clouds. Encounters with a pesky nurse and her family go nowhere, but a young therapist begins to bring Emily out of her isolation.
The rhythms of "Wings" alternate between the studied intensity of Emily's therapy and the jolting speed of her stroke and her memories. And Kopit has written confused speech with remarkable clarity. When Emily refers to "something that happens in the night when you have your things closed," it's not hard to realize that she's speaking of a dream. Actress Mildred Dunnock deserves some of the credit, too. Constance Cummings will play the role here.
John Madden directed "Wings" for "Earplay" with expect "technical realization" by Tom Voegeli in Sound 80 Studios in Minneapolis. Like the words themselves, whole layers of apparently jumbled sounds become comprehensible in the listener's mind. Cara Duff-MacCormick effectively plays the sympathetic therapist.
Within a mere hour on the radio, "Wings" works wonders.