Imagination Stage presents the world premiere of When She Had Wings, a play by Susan Zeder. Inspired by the mystery of famed aviator Amelia Earhart, this production is a proud participator in Washington DC’s Women’s Voices Theater Festival. Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer, this show is a multi-faceted must-see!
Scenic Designer Luciana Stecconi uses a beautiful three-dimensional backdrop– clouds, of course, suspended in a hazy twilight glow by Lighting Designer Zachary Gilbert. Onstage, a garden shed filled with tools and other various knick-knacks sits across from a wild tree house fashioned to look like a pilot’s cockpit. It’s homemade structure and details are incredibly clever (I especially liked the use of wooden spoons as propellers) and will be sure to make every young eye in the audience gleam with jealousy. Several other props (teetering towers of books and swaying wind chimes, to name a few) make this a particularly intricate set that mirrors the themes waiting to unfold.
Costume Designer Collin Ranney does a fine job overall, though I do wish that perhaps the main character was given some padding. Much of the plot revolves around the young girl struggling with a weight problem, though even the loose overalls she was wearing couldn’t hide the fact that the actress portraying her is perfectly fit.
Sound Designer Christopher Bane uses effects such as birds, insects, and thunder to great avail, but what really shines here is the live sound, performed by actors Calvin McCullough and James Konicek. Unseen by their fellow characters, these two provide physical representations of the young girl’s emotions and imagination, while using props to enhance the story (who knew a kazoo could perfectly mimic the sound of a sputtering engine?). What I love most about these two characters (who have no actual spoken lines) is that they act as a sort of interpreter for the younger audience members. Adults can pick up subtle nuances from dialogue, but a child can better understand the same sentiment by reading these characters reactions and expressions.
Maggie Wilder plays Beatrix, or “B,” a young girl who is fascinated by flight. B is convinced that she was once able to fly before she could walk. She is also worried about her upcoming birthday– the big 1-0, because she senses that as she gets older, her dreams and abilities of flying are becoming harder and harder to grasp (“the older you get, the more you forget.)” B believes that if she cannot fly before her birthday, she will lose this freedom forever. She needs some help, and when an eccentric bird-like woman mysteriously appears in her tree, B becomes convinced that this woman is, in fact, her heroine Amelia Earhart, who has become lost in the void after her ill-fated flight across the Pacific. Through a natural bond, these two are able to lift each other up– both physically and emotionally.
This production is surprisingly profound for a children’s theater venue, which makes it highly enjoyable. If the youngsters pick up nothing else from this show (though don’t underestimate a young mind’s potential for picking up on complex themes, either) they will be thrilled with the stunning visuals and entertaining performances, while the adults will find themselves leaving with several interesting discussion topics to explore, ranging from topics such as difficult family dynamics to the resiliency of a child’s imagination. Psychology buffs in particular will love this show.
The performances themselves are top-notch. Pamela Christian is fantastic as the strange woman, who B decided to call “A.” Christian, guided by Movement Director Andrea Moon, delivers a wordless acrobatic performance that is exceptionally moving, and is able to do express much with a role that is mainly physical. Ian Le Valley lends a lot of comic relief as B’s well-meaning father, and Maggie Wilder does a great balancing act portraying a child who is beginning to mature.
Beautifully staged, compelling, and highly enjoyable for everyone, I highly recommend a showing of Imagination Stage’s When She Had Wings. The whole family will love it!
Running Time: 60 minutes, without an intermission.