Normally, we do not review student productions. The last thing that young actors just learning their craft need at this point in their career is a curmudgeonly drama critic glaring at them from the back row, notebook in hand, ready to pounce on the slightest flaw in their performances.
But rules - even those governing which plays it is our policy to review or not review - are made to be bent, waived or broken.Especially when a play comes along that has the extraordinary talent of one of the region's finest actresses, and focuses on important subject matter.
"Wings" is that kind of a play.
And I can't think of another actress in town who could do Kopit's powerful and moving dialogue better than Marilyn Holt.
Holt plays the central role of Emily Stilson, a long-since retired aviatrix and stunt pilot who is suddenly plunged into the terrible chaos of a world gone awry. The play starts quietly and simply, as Stilson is seated in her living room reading a book, the clock ticking loudly across the room. Then, the light flickers, the ticking fades into a strange new sound, her book falls to the floor - and her lovely world is turned topsy-turvy.
Kopit's play - 80 minutes long without an intermission - is carefully structured to demonstrate the absolute fear that befalls a stroke victim.
Stilson's mind has crash-landed - just like one of the old planes she used to fly in her barnstorming days. But the storm this time is inside her head as she lapses into moments of relative lucidity, then takes a sudden turn into strange words and phrases that are nothing more than gibberish.
In her mind, she decides that perhaps she has been captured and is being held hostage in a farm home cleverly disguised as a hospital.
"There's no question, they've got me!" she exclaims - but she's darn well going to ignore all those questions they keep hounding her with.
Doctors, nurses and attendants bombard her until, when a particularly condescending nurse tries to get her to eat her food, she just explodes, throwing a humdinger of a tantrum.
"Are they mad or am I?" she asks herself later.
Words and phrases ricochet around inside the dark nooks and crannies of her partially dead mind, bouncing here and there, then getting clogged up when she tries to express her feelings orally.
Finally, when a therapist with the patience of Job enters the picture, Stilson begins to make progress.
"The words just won't come out," Emily laments.
"You must listen to what you are saying," Amy, the therapist, softly explains.
Holt does more than walk on wings. She takes Kopit's powerful, poetic dialogue and soars.
Student director Shimon Ramirez has done a fine job with this production. His student cast - JaNelle Dixon, Bobbi Fouts, Andrea Larabee, Rene Hemrick, Myk Watford and Iman Nazeeri - are uniformly excellent. Dixon, especially, stands out in the role of Amy.
It must be exciting for these young, up-and-coming performers to work alongside and learn from an actress as gifted as Marilyn Holt - almost as exciting as it is for an audience to see her in action.
Although it was a low-budget production, the spartan set allowed the audience to focus on the play and not on the trappings.
The Lab Theatre is a very intimate space, seating not more than 50 people. Due to the limited seating and the short run, it is strongly suggested that reservations be made in advance.