Wings of Freedom
An original musical dealing with self-doubt, substance abuse, addiction and the seemingly distant possibility of recovery? It’s an unlikely sounding combination, perhaps, but believe it or not, it works. Wings of Freedom, staged by Images Theatre Company, a 5-year-old group that’s finally found a home at Oak Park’s cozy Guild Theater (a good match in terms of size and location) works surprisingly well in this small community production.
The show is a reworked, substantially improved version of a locally written musical that briefly ran at the Chautauqua Playhouse (in suburban Carmichael) in 2005. Playwright/director Lisa Tarrer-Lacy has made savvy revisions. It’s still a message-driven morality tale, but it’s become more dramatic and less didactic.
She’s also dispensed with the heaven vs. hell angle that was superimposed on the central story in 2005. No longer does icy drug dealer Damon don a black cape (with a sinister laugh); neither does Sister Marie (a social worker/recovering addict) wear white.
Instead, the show focuses on four all too human characters who have strayed, stymied by problems. They’re outwardly swaggering and often humorous—there’s some smart give-and-take dialogue. Each claims to be in full control and independent. Yet each offers repeated rationalizations while demonstrating daily dependence on the bottle or drugs.
Each of the four has a dramatic monologue describing, with intense remorse, the failure of a close relationship—followed by a drift into growing personal isolation and addiction. In this revised version, these stories come through with greater credibility and impact, with the campy angel/devil trappings gone.
Actress LaFonda Baker plays a crack user (with blackened teeth), while Michael Turner gives his heroin-using character a strung-out detachment. James Ellison’s character jokes constantly, masking the self-destructive tendencies. Neketia Brown’s character looks down on the others because she only drinks ("no hard drugs") and (barely) holds a job.
Elaine Douglas (returning as the determined social worker) emerges as a better rounded character, while Derrick A. Miller (returning as the dealer) is scarier this time around.
Charles Cooper’s songs includes the aching “I Want to be Free” (sung effectively by Sara Von), and the kooky “I Need a Hit” (with the repeated line “Hit me, hit me, hit me,” echoing Ian Dury’s dark 1978 U.K. chart-topper, “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick.") The show closes with two strong, uptempo gospel numbers, “Believe in Yourself” and the rousing “Wings of Freedom” (both sung by Douglas, the latter a hand-clapping finale).