Wings Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First produced: 1977, as a radio play; 1978, at the Yale Repertory Theatre, New Haven, Connecticut

First published: 1978

Type of work: Play

Type of plot: Expressionism

Time of work: The 1970’s

Locale: A hospital and a convalescent hospital

Characters DiscussedEmily Stilson

Emily WingsStilson, a retired aviator in her seventies. She suffers a stroke and is taken to a hospital, where she recovers over a two-year period. The play presents both her internal thoughts and her external behavior. Internally, she remains intact, though she is extremely confused as to what has happened to her and where she is. Thrown back on her memories, she reaches the conclusion that, following an aviation accident, she is being held prisoner by unknown forces in a Romanian farmhouse disguised to look like a hospital. She interprets the doctors’ questions as attempts to pump her for information. Although she believes herself to be lucid, nothing but gibberish emerges when she speaks. At moments when her thinking becomes jumbled, she returns to memories of flying and walking on the wings of airplanes. When she realizes that her ability to express herself does not match her ability to generate thought within herself, she becomes angry and reacts violently. This reaction, indicative of a desire to communicate with others, brings her out of herself somewhat and advances her therapy. She essentially learns to speak all over again. As her condition improves, more of her memories become conscious. Her son takes her to an aircraft museum, where she finds that her hands automatically manipulate the controls even though she cannot recall how to use them and forgets again as soon as she is no longer in physical contact with the plane. Talking with her therapist, she recounts an out-of-body experience in which she felt herself to be floating on the ceiling. As she speaks, the therapist disappears from her consciousness, which is taken over by a memory in which she is flying blind and lost, but nevertheless enjoying a feeling of freedom. The recollection ends with her walking out onto the wing of the aircraft, courageously facing the unknown–presumably her own death.

Billy

Billy, a stroke patient in his thirties. Billy is a member of Emily Stilson’s therapy group. He owns a farm and is an expert cook, although he is not always clearly aware of his past. His response to the disabilities resulting from his stroke is to keep up a barrage of semicoherent chatter that prevents the therapist from pointing out deficiencies in his language skills and memory. During a therapy session, for example, he accuses the therapist of not having paid him for a cheesecake recipe he gave her, in an effort to put her on the defensive and make her the focus of the session.

Amy

Amy, the therapist who works with Emily Stilson, Billy, and other patients. She is extremely patient with and affectionate toward her patients. She encourages them to work through their disabilities and cheers each breakthrough. She negotiates Billy’s efforts to deflect the therapy she offers him good-humoredly, and she gives Emily much personal attention, taking her outside and talking with her about her family and her past.

Sources for Further StudyAuerbach, Doris. Sam Shepard, Arthur Kopit and the Off-Broadway Theater. Boston: Twayne, 1982.Kopit, Arthur. “The Vital Matter of Environment.” Theatre Arts 45 (April, 1961): 12-13.Myers, Norman J. “Two Kinds of Alaska: Pinter and Kopit Journey Through Another Realism.” Pinter Review, 1992-1993, 11-19.Rose, Carol. “Killing Pain in the End Beds.” In Plays of Impasse. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983.Secrest, Meryle.“‘Out West’ with Kopit.” Washington Post, April 20, 1969, p. K1.Weales, Gerald. “Arthur Kopit.” In Contemporary Dramatists. 6th ed. Detroit: St. James, 1999.
Categories: Characters