A Girl Without Wings, a play by Jason Williamson, first took flight at the IATI Theater on October 7th. The obvious pun in that sentence doesn’t begin to do justice to this gorgeous, lyrical re-imagining of a popular Andean myth, where flight is synonymous with freedom and true love is as much about embracing one’s true self as connecting with someone else.
Based on a folktale of the Quechua speaking communities of Ecuador and Peru, A Girl Without Wings is the story of a lonely condor, tasked with bringing prayers to the gods, who falls in love with a human shepherd girl. Condor (Matthew Stannah) disguises himself as a boy to meet Chaska (Janice Amaya), and she is immediately drawn to him, but the human mask doesn’t stay for long for either one of them. Soon enough, the condor is showing Chaska his world in the clouds, and Chaska slowly realizes something she subconsciously knew all along: that she was meant to fly.
As Chaska, Janice Amaya is a perfect combination of youthful innocence, spirited energy, and a wisdom beyond her years. When she looks at the sky with wonder, you can almost see the feathers about to burst from underneath her skin – an action that becomes literal as she discovers the truth about her nature. Matthew Stannah is equally affecting as the lonely condor, the love for Chaska beaming in his eyes; when he wears his human disguise, he has the posture of someone unaccustomed to using his hands. Rounding out the cast are Ivano Pulito as Chaska’s stubborn, overprotective Ram, Laura Riveros as her loving mother, Andrew Clarke as her damaged but wise father, and Christen Madrazo and Mike Axelrod as a pair of comically mean hummingbirds who tease condor and establish themselves as the top of the pecking order.
A Girl Without Wings is meant to evoke a living Tigua painting (an Andean art form that depicts stories on sheep skin canvases). The production team (led by director Kathleen Amshoff and stage manager Maxwell Waters) accomplishes this goal with a combination of lush and bright colors in the costumes, set pieces, lights, and puppetry. Actors capture important moments by holding a red wooden frame in front of characters’ faces.
But painting wasn’t the only art form that came to mind when watching A Girl Without Wings. Music is essential to this production, with guitar and composition by Thomas Burns Scully and beautiful, haunting singing from Andrew Clarke as Chaska’s father. The lyricism of Williamson’s writing, combined with the elements of music and art, bring to life a story with more beauty and magic than many animated films.
And the story itself is one of love and self-discovery, where a girl’s love for a boy does not inspire her to change who she is, but to realize who she always was. Identity and transformation is explored in this play, through Chaska making her journey to become a bird, or her father retaining his wisdom even after losing other faculties after an accident, or actors turning their hands into puppets to appear as the people in Chaska’s dreams. A Girl Without Wings shows us that physical transformation and change does not alter the core of who we are.
A Girl Without Wings is playing in repertory at IATI Theater at 64 East 4th Street until October 27, 2013. Ticket information is available on the IATI Theater website: http://www.iatitheater.org/. In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I have friends involved in this production.