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Wax Wings

Matthew Maguire's intriguing but unevenly realized play involves four scientists, the origin of life, and a deadly SARS epidemic. logo
Jack Marshall and Eliza Baldi in Wax Wings
(© Aaron Epstein)
Two scientists have discovered a way to reconstruct the process that led to the origin of life in Matthew Maguire's intriguing but unevenly realized Wax Wings, being presented by Creation Production Company at The Wild Project. However, further progress in their research is being blocked by a lawsuit from religious fundamentalists who believe the project is tantamount to "invading God's domain."

The fact that biochemist Alina Maria Santos (Amirah Vann) and microbiologist Sofya Makarova (Colleen Werthmann) are lesbians -- and a couple -- does not help their case, and they've been cautioned by their higher ups at the National Institute of Health about the "political implications of [their] work." They turn to their friends and co-workers, epidemiologists Leda Ventriano (Eliza Baldi) and David Rowlands (Jack Marshall), for support and assistance.

Leda is also interested in creating life -- except she'd like to do it via the old-fashioned biological method. However, David has no desire to be a father, which has caused a major rift in their marriage. Leda is also Catholic, and while she doesn't believe everything that the Church holds as sacred, she is not so quick to dismiss it, either.

The four scientists -- particularly Leda and Sofya -- argue about scientific progress versus religious principles, and the play also takes a look at the pro-choice/pro-life debate in a way that feels fresh. Maguire runs the risk of making his characters' speeches sound more like talking points than actual discussions, but what they say remains interesting.

The playwright then introduces the outbreak of a deadly strain of SARS to force the scientists to work together, with the tension of each couple's domestic problems carrying over into the work they do with one another. But while the premise Maguire devises is credible, it somehow feels forced in its execution, which may have more to do with the way director Michael Kimmel handles the proceedings. He is unable to sustain momentum between the short, episodic scenes that Maguire has provided, and, too often, tension is created then lost as the lights black out and actors rearrange furniture.

Werthmann delivers the strongest performance of the evening, even if the Russian accent she adopts for her role is sometimes played too broadly. Still, when it counts, she is capable of a subtlety that makes Sofya's inner emotional life flourish, and the connection between her and Vann's capable Alina is a strong one. The chemistry between Marshall's David and Baldi's Leda is not as good, particularly in their establishing scene, set on New Year's Eve. This also tends to throw the balance of the production off.

The play's title is derived from the legend of Icarus, who flew too high on wings made of wax, so that the sun melted them. That story is usually meant as a cautionary tale, having to do with excessive pride. However, it's unclear whether Maguire means the allusion in an ironic fashion or not. By play's end, his characters remain -- metaphorically speaking -- in flight. But maybe he's simply setting them up for a fall.

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