School of the Arts rises to "Wings" challenge

Geneseo's School of the Arts is pulling out all the stops in its masterfully crafted production of "Wings," originally written by Arthur Kopit.

"Wings" plunges its audience into the frenzied, chaotic mind of a stroke victim named Emily Stilson as she struggles toward recovery. Stilson, a former pilot and wing walker, suffers from aphasia, a communication disorder resulting from a stroke that impairs her ability to process language, even though her intelligence is still intact.

Kopit wrote "Wings" after his father suffered from a stroke in order to express his belief that the father he knew was still alive inside his crippled, mute shell of a body. As Stilson says, "I am still intact in here."

"Wings" is not a show or a narrative as much as it is a raw, visceral experience. From within Stilson's tortured mind, we are buffeted with sound and light, reflections and shattered images, words that don't make sense and doctors who can't understand.

"Wings"directed by Randy Barbara KaplanRobert Sinclair Theater, Brodie Hall Wednesday - Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m.

Stilson and the audience are trapped and captured in this wonderland without wonder, a claustrophobic nightmare that is both cold and unrelenting.

Junior Lauren Scheibly throws herself into Stilson's character to the point that you forget she's acting. Throughout the almost two-hour long show, she is on stage nearly constantly, and often alone. Her portrayal of this daunting role displays remarkable confidence and incredible skill.

Yet "Wings" is one of the few plays in which the crew outshines the actors on stage. Not because the actors are lacking in any way - they are fantastic - but because the crew carries out Broadway-grade feats behind the scenes.

The lights shift almost every second, the set is in constant motion and Stilson's shattered communicative abilities require sound clips to be played on a regular basis. "Wings" is nothing if not ambitious, but the crew rises to the challenge.

Lights create the images of trees while others make windows. Spotlights shift and dim, creating harsh chiaroscuro silhouettes at times and warm scenes of comfort at others. The set starts as a dazzling cubist nightmare, closing around Stilson on all sides and trapping us inside her frantic mind. As Stilson recovers, we glimpse more of her surroundings and the set becomes more concrete.

Part of the set includes cubist-style panels held by production members that spin and shift around Stilson depending on her state of mind. At one point, they all tilt in unison, creating a stunning visual effect.

One downside, not of the production but the show itself, is the length of its segments. Our glimpse into the mind of a stroke patient is thorough and exhaustive, to the point that some scenes or rather, sections of the one main scene, seem to drag. While this seems integral to the structure of the play, it can be taxing at times.

"Wings" opened in Brodie's Alice Austin Theater on Wednesday, March 2 and will run to Sunday, March 7. Because of the immersing nature of the play, latecomers will not be seated. Tickets are on sale in the Brodie Box Office.