Sunday, November 14, 2010

Very Different Flights in 'Wings,' 'Spirit Control'

Jan Maxwell (seated), above as Emily Stilson in "Wings." Below, in "Spirit Control," are Brian Hutchison, Maggie Lacey and Jeremy Sisto. Photos by Joan Marcus.


theme is flight. That is all Arthur Kopit’s 1978 “Wings” and Beau Willimon’s brand-spanking new, “Spirit Control,” have in common.

Jan Maxwell can do anything! In “Wings,” currently in a revival through 21 Nov. at the Second Stage Theatre, her portrayal of Emily Stilson is proof of her theatrical prowess.

Emily has suffered a stroke, and the stages of her recovery are apparent. Though she cannot speak, her recorded voice is lucidly screaming in her head. She is delusional – believing she has been captured behind enemy lines. Emily begins to communicate with her doctors and nurses in garbled language. Much of this is a monologue taking place while she is seated in a straightback chair.

JM gives a tour-de-force performance. But despite the seemingly interesting back story –Emily is a wingwalker – most of “Wings” remains very dull. January LaVoy convincingly plays compassionate and intelligent therapist, Amy, who works with Emily individually and proves to be a comforting leader in group sessions.

The opening scenes of “Wings,”during which the cast is dressed as doctors and nurses pushing around panels and mirrors as Emily muses, are busy and clamorous. Even the "smoke" and mirrors don’t add to the theatricality or excitement.

When “Wings” was first produced in 1978, it was a hit. In this iteration it is a decidedly minor and uninspiring work.

No such thing can be said of Manhattan Theatre Club’s production of “Spirit Control” at City Center Stage I.

The superb and versatile Jeremy Sisto is Adam Wyatt, chief air-traffic controller at The Spirit of St. Louis airfield. An incident on Adam’s watch in the summer of 1985 haunts him over the next 25 years. It impacts both his interpersonal relationships, and the choices he makes.

His buddy and colleague, Karl (Brian Hutchison) picks up some of the pieces. His wife, Jess (Maggie Lacey) tries to preserve the normalcy of their marriage. Nothing, however, remains normal for Adam. His son, Tommy, (Aaron Michael Davies) vents his anger against him. The seductive Maxine, a fetching Mia Barron, wreaks havoc and, gives him peace.

Adam is fiercely protective of the secret that informs his actions. He is deeply wounded and resigned in his anger but at the same time determined to heal himself in his isolation. In a carefully nuanced performance, JS strips away all of the layers to expose the ethos of a proud and capable man who has lost his power to fix what is broken.

The storytelling is taut – unraveling a compelling and unusual account of a life that has veered off course.

Visit http:// to learn more about “Wings,” and to learn more about “Spirit Control.”

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