PROVO — It only takes one or two productions of wide-eyed actors speaking condescendingly to children for adults to be turned off to theatre for young audiences. With Two Wings, a production currently at BYU, shows that theatre for young audiences does not have to alienate adults. Indeed, With Two Wings is not only enjoyable for older audiences, but it might have stronger messages for parents and grandparents than for children.
With Two Wings tells the story of Lyf, a “fledgling” who has always lived with her parents in their home in the middle of the forest. Lyf’s parents have given her a rigid series of rules that are designed to keep her safe. Her life is changed, though, when another fledgling her age, Meta, arrives and tells her about the outside world. Meta shows Lyf the possibilities that exist outside of the safety of the home and even gives Lyf some flying lessons. In the end, Lyf must choose between her parents’ expectations and the excitement that Meta symbolizes. Lyf’s parents face an equally tough decision about whether to let their child go and leave the protection of their nest.
It is not hard for adults to guess the ending of the play. Where Anne Negri’s script succeeds is not in suspense, but in creating a vivid fantasy world and satisfying relationships. Lyf, her parents, and the other characters are not bird; they are people with wings. Lyf lives in a “nest” with her parents, and Meta talks about her “flock” (school). But the characters’ emotions and behavior are entirely human, which makes them relatable—even when they just have worries about flying injuries and nest maintenance. It’s a charming effect that adds imagination to the setting.
Director Julia Ashworth reinforced the humanity of the characters by forging believable relationships among her actors. Yes, they have wings, but Mom and Lyf have a engrossing, real mother-daughter relationship. Ditto for the disagreeing Mom and Dad or the sibling rivalry between Meta and Taur. Ashworth understood that it was the relationships that make this play tick, and the result was a small ensemble actors who understand how they fit together to tell the overall story.
As Lyf, Kate Tullis is an endearing protagonist who serves as an everygirl whose conflicts with her parents seemed universal, even though they were about leaving the “nest” and whether she should learn to fly. Tullis gave Lyf a childlike curiosity that never felt petulant, especially when asking Meta about the outside world. The love between Lyf and her parents was touching, especially when it served a source of conflict.
Sydni Bringhurst played Mom in a believable way, again rooting her opposition to Lyf’s choices in love. Many parents will recognize Mom’s anxiety about Lyf’s safety when she flies or the attempts she made to reason with Dad (played by Tommy Brown) when the two disagreed about parenting decisions. Bringhurst also had an impassioned retelling of the Daedalus and Icarus story that served as another reminder that the play’s setting mingled fantasy and the human reality.
Alyssa Black played Meta as an energetic 7-year-old who was enthusiastic to make a new friend. Her cute eagerness, friendliness, and verbosity injected excitement into Lyf’s mundane routine. Black made Meta an effective ambassador of the outside world and introduced conflict without disparaging the life that Lyf’s parents had created. And Meta’s arguments with her twin sister, Taur (played by Melissa Longhurst), were so natural that it felt like the two actors had been arguing with one another for years.
To meet the requirements of the school tour, BYU’s productions for children never have big, elaborate technical elements. But that doesn’t mean that the production values are low. The set (designed by Mary-Michal Carrigan) showcased an upstage backdrop made of camouflage netting with bits of cloth interwoven in between, which served as a constant reminder of the nest the family lived in. CJ Madsen wrote a soothing original piano score that strengthened the flying scenes. But the best theatrical element was Madison Miller’s costume designs. Every costume piece was eye catching, from the functional tunics to the dazzling wings that were covered in bits of cloth that served as feathers, which mimicked real plumage in how the different shades of color blended together.
Theatre for young audiences is one of the most misunderstood genres of theatre. With Two Wings breaks stereotypes about the genre, especially with its character-centered direction and lovely technical elements. Best of all, the play shows that adults can benefit from attending productions aimed at children.