The Birds is one of the worst productions I’ve seen all year. I wasn’t prepared for this. As an admirer of Hitchcock’s movie by the same name (based on the same short story), I assumed the play would offer similar thrills. I was wrong. As an admirer of the playwright Conor McPherson, author of powerful dramas like The Weir, Shining City, and The Seafarer, I expected another haunting look at the interpenetration of the natural and supernatural. I was mistaken. As a sometime fan of Rebecca novelist Daphne Du Maurier, on whose original tale this play is based, I looked forward to an atmospheric mystery with fun, spooky overtones. I was misguided.
The Birds is a bore. It’s a two-hour exercise in which next to nothing happens, and in which the few things that do happen recur so incessantly, you want to run for the exit. This play isn’t frightening, amusing, or even campy (it takes itself very seriously). Three of its four actors turn in first-rate work, and the result is still bottom-of-the-barrel. The play’s other few strengths — Todd Olson’s portentous sound design, Jeffrey W. Dean’s set, Mike and Kathy Buck’s costumes — are wasted on a meaningless, dead-in-the-water pageant. When finally, in the last few minutes of The Birds, there are a couple of new plot elements, they’re far too little too late. This corpse can’t be revived.
Things start out promisingly enough. On Dean’s wonderful set of a broken-down interior with a general look of shabby intransigence, two persons — Diane and Nat — try to keep safe from the murderous fowls which for some reason have turned against humanity. After a few minutes, they’re joined by another survivor, saucy Julia. We learn a few key details: the world’s birds have become enemies of human life everywhere on the globe. They come and go with the tides. The main problem now is collecting enough food and water from abandoned houses and farms in the area. This may be the end of the world.
It’s certainly the end of the plot. For the next couple of hours, Nat is either delirious, drunk or just blathering meaninglessly. Diane is more focused, which means she writes in her diary and tries to decide on the group’s best strategies for carrying on. Julia, meanwhile, makes eyes at hapless Nat and quotes Ecclesiastes. An intruder arrives, acts more or less menacing, and then departs. A can of pears turns out to be really full of onions. Alcoholic beverages make their appearances. The birds attack the boarded-up windows for a while, then apparently lose interest. These three heroes are so tedious, they’re not even worth pecking to death.
Still, three of the actors give themselves to the script as if it were Shakespeare. Roxanne Fay plays Diane with admirable intensity, keeping us believing that something significant is happening even when all the other evidence is against it. Gretchen Porro as Julia is a deceptively friendly woman of dubious scruples, who may or may not have slept her way to last week’s meals. And Joseph Parra as the previously mentioned intruder could be a figure in a Beckett short: in his epic rags and prophetic beard, he seems certain to make an important change in the play’s direction. He doesn’t. His appearance adds nothing but distraction.
As for Richard B. Watson as Nat, there’s not even the suspicion of consequence. I well remember Watson’s excellent performance in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf some seasons ago, so I know what he’s capable of. But in The Birds he’s so unfocused, such a human blur, it’s hard to believe that the two women can even see him long enough to have an opinion of him. Olson’s direction, at least where the three thinkable characters are concerned, is earnest (like Fay, he imagines there’s a play here), and his sound design, featuring ominous, dissonant music, is more exciting than anything on stage.
Gender essentialism. Thumbs down.
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