Wings of Desire
Directed by Ola Mafaalani
American Repertory Theater
64 Brattle Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
November 25-December 17, 2006
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
The American Repertory Theater always produces sound and fury. Sometimes it signifies nothing, sometimes it baffles and sometimes it produces brilliance. Often it occurs within the same production.
Case in point: Wings of Desire, a stage adaptation of a Wim Wenders 1987 film of the same name.
The screenplay is heavenly. Two angels, Damien and Cassiel, are assigned for eternity to observe and catalogue human behavior. Damien begins to question his lot to live a spiritual existence and begins to long for human contact, physical sensation of biting into an apple, and for love. He observes Marion, a lonely trapeze artist, falls in love with her, and over time decides to shed his wings and descend to earth to join her in the mortal world.
Most of us eye heaven as a place in which our worldly burdens melt away - the ultimate oasis where we bathe in pools of harmony and respite. We’ve experienced the crests and troughs of love and might envy Damien’s benign existence. But we understand the power of a yearning heart. Even though we know the costs and the disequilibrium that often attend love, we root for Damien make the leap.
What could be better? An angel willing to sacrifice heaven for an earthly love falls for a trapeze artist, of all people, a beauty who nightly soars toward heaven and earthly fulfillment. Beautiful irony. The handsome angel and the gorgeous trapeze artist in a cosmic collision that promises heat and light.
It never happens.
The set over which the aerial artistry takes place is spare and effective. The stage, stripped to its black rear wall and up to its forty-foot ceiling, suggests heaven and earth. The rooftop of a white canteen wagon parked at center stage acts as a perch for the two angels to view Earth. A pair of musicians play and relax to stage left, various characters, and local news personality Robin Young, take turns occupying stage right.
Suspended over all is the trapeze harness in which Smith frequently glides in stunningly sensual arcs. She seems most herself as she defies gravity. Longing for her from above is Damien, who has never felt its pull.
Between the philosophical conversations between Damien and Cassiel, other things happen. Music, loud and often inaudible, blares occasionally from the musicians. Robin Young reads the news. Other characters come forward to comment on the human condition. As a former angel who came to earth for his own reasons, Stephen Payne leavens the proceedings with panache. His gravel voiced cowboy philosopher in a rumpled hat comes across somewhere between a jaded hippie and a wise Zen monk. By the play’s conclusion, it isn’t at all clear that Damien will have integrated life and love as well as this free spirit.
Sand drifting silently down pools of light gives beautiful texture to the metaphor of the passing of time and suggests a channel through which mortals pass into heaven. Alas, the disparate elements and characters don’t add up to a coherent narrative.
Damien’s first steps on earth are acted out in an inexplicably madcap and manic rushing about the stage. It’s unsatisfying and out of synch with the romantically poetic nature he's demonstrated from his perch in heaven. The final scene with Damien flying sensuously with Marion would be a stunning act for the Big Apple Circus but it gives us no idea what Damien thinks of his choice to subject himself to the laws of gravity and vagaries of love. His ‘voice over’ during this flight suggests his ecstasy at being joined to Marion but seems awkward since there’s been so little exposition between them since his descent to earth.
So here we are again with the ART’s sound and fury, signifying something, I’m just not sure what.