The Itching of the Wings
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
November 9, 2005
The dream of flying has no doubt been with us since we first glanced towards the sky. It is a dream that we have felt so compelled to express in literature, art, and science, that now we actually can fly. However, we cannot soar. Only the soul can soar. In Plato’s Phaedrus Socrates describes the soul as once having wings. Love, he says, revives the wings of the soul. Philippe Quesne’s The Itching of the Wings attempts to revive the wings of the soul by dissecting the concepts of the human desire to fly.
Indeed, the structure of the performance is its most interesting aspect. In these days of fragmentation in everything from music videos to political speeches to flavors of ice cream, it is interesting to see a performance that pieces together several notions of a single idea, i.e., the desire to fly. Quesne calls it “theatre in pieces”. It’s sort of like a review, but not of tired tunes from old musicals. (Though there is an inexplicable musical interlude courtesy of special guest band Mad Cow who play what they call “hard blues” aka punk rock.)
Here’s some of what’s “cut and pasted”: A brief reading of the above mentioned Phaedrus; a dental surgeon who builds model birds that can fly (well glide); another man who has learned to fly through the practice of White Crane Kung Fu; a contemplation of Bruegel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus; and a story of a man who thinks there are giant cosmic petals passing through space/time and if you jump off the world at the precise moment you can land on one of them. (Now that I’d like to try!)
One of the more technical and certainly the most interesting thing we are given to look at is a “flight simulator” that supposedly translates the movements of the person on whom it is strapped into an electronic signal that is then projected as a human figure onto a wall. One of the performers (we are never actually told who is who) Velcros these straps with wires connected to them to his arms and legs and one big strap around his torso. Then he puts on some dark ski goggles and connects what look like jumper cables to his ankles and off he goes. (Well sort of) His projected image takes to the air though he never actually leaves the ground. Not from lack of trying, however. His struggle to fly is an interesting irony as we watch his image soar. I don’t think the projected image was truly following his movements, it was more the other way around—but his frustration is palpable and funny in a way.
I think what I liked most about The Itching of the Wings is that I was allowed to create my own composition from the various fragments presented. I’m sure that every audience member has a somewhat different experience as they create their own whole from the pieces. At the same time the theme is clear and we all have the shared experience of thinking about the desire to soar. There are, however, some dull moments. There’s a lot of video-watching and all of the video speakers are speaking French. There’s a large screen on which a translation is being projected but naturally there is a lot lost in translation and of course much is lost in the act of reading instead of listening. The performers oftentimes just mill around on a set that is like an unkempt college pad with a glass-encased recording studio at its center. They casually wander on, talk to other performers while we watch a video, and then maybe do their bit or sometimes not. Quesne’s direction is laid back. There’s no sense of urgency and our eyes are free to wander about the stage much like the performers.
The performers—Gaetan Vourch, Sebastien Jacobs, Tristan Varlot, Rodolphe Aute, and Zinn Atmane—all do an excellent and unaffected job at presenting their pieces. I especially liked the guy who comes out and dances a silly dance in a suit of feathers as the end credits are rolling.
The Itching of the Wings is an intriguing offering from our neighbors across the pond. It’s very French, which is to say I didn’t get all of it, but still it’s very fresh and oh so post modern. I can’t say that my soul soared by the end of the performance, but it did take a few futile leaps into the air.