Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors
L-R: Mia Hutchinson-Shaw, Tony Naumovski, and Antoinette LaVecchia in Conor McPherson’s THE BIRDS. Photo by Carol Rosegg
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors
Don't expect the deliciously elegant terror of Hitchcock's 1963 film, The Birds, in Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s 2009 more cerebral version at 59E59 Theaters. While McPherson’s play turns to the original 1952 Daphne du Maurier short story and Hitchcock's film as springboards, the current play takes a different focus. Going beyond surviving a terrifying world-wide attack by rogue birds, McPherson’s conceit focuses on doomed humans battling for survival and questioning the existence and need for God in the universe.
This approach centers around three embattled survivors, Diane (Antoinette LaVecchia), a haunted divorced writer who keeps a diary and regularly steps to the side of the tiny dark stage to narrate her feelings. She has hunkered down in an abandoned New England farmhouse with Nat (Tony Naumovski), a wanderer she met on the road. They are later joined by a flighty, manipulative 20-year-old, Julia (Mia Hutchinson-Shaw), whose presence causes a shift in the relationship between steady Diane and emotionally troubled Nat as they try to adjust to Julia's sly and provocative unpredictability.
The three refugees are under attack by waves of birds who attack twice a day at high tide in a grotesque war against humanity. With scarce outside communication and food only between bird blitzes when they dare to leave and scavange for food, the time passes with stultifying boredom, broken by arguments and moments of forgetting with a bottle of wine. It's easy to understand the morass of suspicion, paranoia, desires and insinuations of murder.
Directed by Stefan Dzeparoski, the three actors turn in dedicated performances. LaVecchia (A View from the Bridge) subtly shows Diane's middle-aged spiritual and personal struggles through 90-minutes of dealing with Nat's psychological outbreaks and Julia's trouble-making and Bible-quotes. Naumovski (Wide Awake Hearts) displays Nat's dependency on Diane's care-giving even as he is lured by Julia's nubile charms. This child-woman is portrayed bewitchingly by Hutchinson-Shaw (The Island Boy) who parades a showcase of tricks Julia uses to get her way. Indeed, sexuality mingling with survival is evident throughout the play right from the start when Nat, gripped in a feverish nightmare, storms totally naked on stage. Naumovski also plays double duty as a neighbor, Tierney, who appears once to warn Diane of impending problems if she continues to allow Julia to live with them.
Dzeparoski's staging, unfortunately, throws the production into an inaccessible cacophony. Set designer Konstantin Roth aims for claustrophobia in the small, black arena space in 59E59 Theaters, with smoky air and only a few spears of lights by Kia Rogers on the single set surrounded by four viewing sections. The viewing is problematic, starting when Diane draws a box on the floor, writing "House" in chalk in the middle. Unfortunately, half of the room cannot see it. Problems for the other half of the room are worse. Many viewers must twist around, or even stand up to view David J. Palmer's expressionistic video design indicating the bird attacks with vivid streaks of black, white and gray. This is accompanied by Ien DeNio's threatening sound designs of flapping wings and angry screeches with occasional scratchy sounds from the fading radio.
In this spiritual and social thesis of nature upending itself with birds turning on humans, McPherson (Shining City, The Weir, The Seafarer) offers an opportunity to ponder today's world problems but The Birdland Theatre production does not nail it. What's more, the audience does not experience that chilling clutch of terror that an impending apocalyptic tale should offer.
Canada's Birdland Theatre production
59 East 59th Street
Previews: Sept. 9, 2016 Opens: Sept. 15, 2016 Ends: Oct. 2, 2016 (no performances Sept. 21,23,28,30)
Directed by Stefan Dzeparoski
Written by: Conor McPherson
Running time: 90 minutes
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors
Sept. 14, 2016 (press performance)
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