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Flying On The Wing

nytheatre.com review by Maggie Cino
August 11, 2006

Flying on the Wing is the autobiography of a young man in his early 20s. It is the tale of his struggle with a debilitating and painful genetic disease called Stickler's Syndrome, his coming to terms with his homosexuality, and the people in his life who care about him. And if by any chance you're thinking this is something you don't want to see, you would be very, very wrong.

Writer-performer Michael Perlman is a gifted theatre artist who uses his unique physicality to its full theatrical potential. He has the musicality and physical grace of the very best performers, and co-director Lear deBessonet and lighting and sound designer Todd Lipcon serve the piece beautifully.

The play begins as a huge, shadowy figure with a strange, rasping voice announces that he is the archangel Michael, here to heal. After this dark, mystical, and poetic beginning, the lights come up and the trick is revealed. The size is an illusion, the voice is not. And for the remainder of the piece, those two elements, Perlman's small physical size and his hoarse, unusual voice, are explored again and again. He stands on boxes and acts out scenes with tiny figures that make him look gargantuan, he drinks water to soothe his scarred vocal chords, conducts the sound of the hospital machines, and lip synchs with heartbreaking nuance.

Flying on the Wing is the story of Perlman's family, mostly his grandparents and his mother. While never becoming saccharine or obvious, the script makes it clear that their love, acceptance, and patience allowed him not only to live, but to grow up to achieve what should have been impossible. One of the most poignant scenes is when he uses a Cabbage Patch doll as a surrogate for himself and explains what the doll has been through—the tracheotomy and scars on its vocal chords, the holes in its mouth, the body casts, the cuts that won't heal. And even after making it through these long and recurring illnesses, Perlman still has his sexuality to deal with. He explains that coming out to your mother once is hard, but that coming out twice because you have a low, hoarse voice and she is hearing-impaired is even harder.

But Perlman has won his battle. Despite his rasping voice, lack of high-frequency hearing, and early childhood spent in body casts, he is in front of us now, expertly performing a one-man musical. Ultimately, the show is about how love does make a difference, and how life is a choice, and how at the intersection of love and life is the possibility for genuine transformation. "We handle what we handle," he quotes his mother, "because we handle it."