“Grow a Pair … of Wings” Rises from the Cocoon

It is, as the author acknowledges, every young artist’s story.

Struggling for a foothold in the Big City, still getting advice — and checks — from The Parents, trying to sort out what heart and mind and body seem to want. Pulled by tides of  vision and despair, needing hugs and solitude, sick of home yet homesick.

We meet Sarah Klein swimming as hard as she can in this larval soup, a caterpillar who’s lost her familiar form on the way to becoming — what? — something she can barely imagine, mostly just feel. Another actress from the Midwest, furiously treading water in LA.

Her story is so well-known we’ll need something fresh in the telling to hold our attention and make it worth staging. Happily, author Amelia Phillips finds part of it in Sarah’s Jewish heritage — and director Stacie Hadgikosti finds the rest in a cast of remarkable skill.

Barry Vigon, Amelia Phillips (photo: Joseph Bornilla)

Barry Vigon, Amelia Phillips (photo: Joseph Bornilla)

As lights rise, Sarah (Phillips) is anxiously preparing for a Passover Seder that nearly overwhelms the small stage. Her family flies in for the feast, an unstable mix of tradition and improv at which they meet the goyfriend (Tyler Cook). But what makes this night different from all others is the sudden death of Grandpa (Barry Vigon).

From here on, as Sarah navigates her life — auditions, love tangles, the loss of her parents’ subsidies —  Grandpa joins the journey, a guardian ghost seen only by her.  This device works well, giving scenes a third dimension: unsettling but not eerie, a kind of emotional grounding. (I’d like to see even more made of it.)

Another device Phillips and Hadgikosti use to good effect is Sarah’s having to stand at attention, almost in the audience, at a series of auditions. They make us feel her nakedness as she scrambles to say, and embody, what if anything makes her unique.

Phillips’ script has evolved over several years into a story well worth telling.  In future iterations — which it definitely deserves — it will no doubt become tighter and swifter.  (Her final audition, for example, blends earned discovery with subtext, and thus needs pruning.) But as a first effort, it’s quite an achievement.

Equally impressive is the uniformly high quality of the acting.  Phillips (riskily playing the lead in her own work) gives Sarah an intensity we can’t turn away from; careening through many moods and moments, she stays real and reachable. As her sister Audrey, Riva Di Paola lets fascinating layers of complexity peek out without eroding focus; Tyler Cook makes Gabe, the musician boyfriend, a heel we can’t hate because we see the good guy trapped inside; and Greg Nussen creates a winning BFF who trembles on the edge of becoming more.

Jennie Fahn, as Sarah’s mother, deserves a special note.  From pre-show to curtain call she walks a tightrope, with the abyss  of caricature yawning beneath her. Yet she never falls.  Her character is a Jewish mother so familiar we can almost say her lines — but Fahn brings such energy and specificity to every second that we are always touched by the woman Mama Klein knows herself to be.

Murray Burn’s flexible set design evokes a variety of places we’ve lived in, and the lighting (Benjamin Robert Watt) and sound (Daniel Tator) lead us seamlessly where we need to go.  Like Hadgikosti’s movement of the characters, Lyndsay Lucas’ calling of the cues is deft enough to be invisible. This “only in LA” production quality is a gift new works seldom get anywhere else.

LA has birthed more scripts about making it as an artist than it has coffee shops.  But grow a pair … of wings has fought its way out of the cocoon, and taken form as a real play. Its wings may not be fully dry yet, but it’s already well worth staging — and seeing.
grow a pair … of wings, by Amelia Phillips, directed by Stacie Hadgikosti.
Presented by Amelia Phillips and FRESH PRODUCE’d L.A. at the Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd.

Thru April 26: Fridays and Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 2 and 7.
April 30-May 10: Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 7.

Tickets: <www.ameliap.com/wings> or




we can almost predict every word she says
energy and specificity
the person she knows herself to be