With or Without Wings, Mookie Jam, at Victory Gardens Theater. The tricky thing about multiple sclerosis is its variability. Those afflicted with the disorder may be disabled severely, mildly, or not at all. Its damage to the nervous system can kill in 2 years–or 60. It can flare up suddenly, then go into remission for decades. The late Texas senator Barbara Jordan had MS. Richard Pryor has MS. Annette Funicello has MS. And Chicago actress Mierka Girten, author with Michael Thomas of With or Without Wings, has MS.

But Girten permits herself no gloomy contemplations in this autobiographical one-woman show. Acquainting us with her journey from an idyllic childhood in Cincinnati to graduate study in Chicago, Girten creates a bevy of supporting characters so vocally and physically individualized that we never doubt the accuracy of their representation. Equally believable are her humorously described struggle to come to terms with the disintegration of her body–an actor’s chief instrument–and her despair following the discovery that her mother also has the incurable disease.

Produced under the auspices of Mookie Jam, the nonprofit organization Girten started to benefit artists with MS, With or Without Wings is a courageous, surprisingly tear-free look at a life lived all the more intensely because it may be short.

–Mary Shen Barnidge