note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi
Damiel, an angel … Bernard White
Cassiel, an angel … Mark Rosenthal
Marion, a trapeze artist … Mam Smith
former angel … Stephen Payne
Homer, an immortal poet … Stephan Payne
thoughts; live music … Jesse Lenat; Hadewych Minis
newsreader … Robin Young
dying man … Fred Goessens
child … Andris Freimanis
the suicide … Daniel Robert Pecci
snack bar patrons … W. Kirk Avery; Jerome Quinn;
Greta Merchant; Betty Milhendler
Two angels, Damiel and Cassiel, wander through WINGS OF DESIRE, an import production at the American Repertory Theatre, but there is also an invisible third: the angel Gabriel, trumpeting that the avant-garde movement of the 1960s is dead but far from gone. Catatonic promenades; static dialogue, declaimed at wicked-slow speeds; arty turns that smack of improvisation but are never developed; non-actors contributing non-performances; the shock lighting and sound effects --- you’ve seen it all before and now you can see it all again at nearly two hours’ running time, sans intermission, and with deafening rock music, to boot.
This production is based on Wim Wenders’ 1987 film where Damiel, Cassiel and other angels wander through Berlin, recording humans’ thoughts (why, if God is All-Knowing?); Damiel falls in love with a female trapeze artist and becomes mortal to be with her. Mr. Wenders’ film records that haunted city just before its Wall came tumbling down; it, too, has static dialogue but the grey-and-white cinematography (changing to color when Damiel turns flesh-and-blood), the gliding camerawork and the ever-whispering soundtrack hold one’s interest. Here, the creative team falls back on the screenplay, itself, rather than taking what was purely cinematic with “flat” actors and converting it into the purely theatrical with “round” ones. (For example, the two angels never levitate or suggest otherworldliness; instead, they clump about like the homeless.) If you haven’t seen Mr. Wenders’ film, you may wonder what in Heaven is going on; if you have, your thoughts may echo mine. (The plot has been updated to include 9/11 and Iraq and allows for local references to wherever the production is playing; should it ever come to my home town, the characters would comment on its shopping malls and pizza palaces…) Co-adaptor Gideon Lester states, “It was the human story, or rather the angelic story, that interested us most…”; judging by the results, the 1998 American film version would have worked better as it is an non-cerebral love story between an Angel-turned-Man and a Woman-to-become-Angel --- but, then, that’s me, scribbling…
Amidst the endless drifts of sand pouring down upon bodies and flood-lights, Mam Smith’s trapeze artist is the one bit of magic: athletic but curvy in all the right places, Ms. Smith glides, twists and morphs herself into endless tableaus; her performing without a net adds suspense to the beauty, and she and her Damiel close with a lovely mid-air coupling --- I’ll assume the standing ovation on the night I attended was mostly for her. Fortunately, Ms. Smith has few lines to speak as her declamation and strut are rock-hard and the adjective “fucking”, though uttered only once, coarsens her supple iconography.