Sunday, October 2, 2016

THE BIRDS: Despair Pervades Conor McPherson's Take on du Maurier's Classic Tale

The Birds
Photo by Carol Rosegg

It’s the end of the world as we know it, in playwright Conor McPherson’s dread-infused deconstruction of Daphne du Maurier classic nightmare of a tale, The Birds, now on view at 59E59 Theaters as part of the Origin’s 1st Irish Festival.   

The fiendish fowls are still on hand (we can hear them as they enter and leave the scene with the tides, thanks to Ien Denio’s evocative sound design). But abandon any expectations you may have of a staged version of the iconic Alfred Hitchcock film of the same title. You’ll not find Tippi Hedren swatting away at an army of malignant feathered critters, nor Rod Taylor leaping to her rescue.   

McPherson’s better known works (Shining City, The Weir, The Seafarer) conjure up images of actual ghosts, ghoulies, and demons, and there is a certain lyrical Irish-flaired spooky-stories-around-the-campfire quality to them. But with The Birds, originally produced in 2009, he takes a different tack. Here, the flying army merely serves as the backdrop to the psychological disintegration of a few remaining humans trying to survive the onslaught. The overall effect is less that of du Maurier’s plunge into Cold War paranoia than it is a descent into the hellish landscape depicted in Cormac McCarthy’s dystopian novel The Road.

This is a claustrophobic production, for both the actors and the audience. We are invited to enter the already-small theater a few at a time, and we are seated in a tight circle around the tiny performing space where the play will unfold just inches from us. It is difficult to see for the darkness and the fog and the random projections of equally random images just outside of our range of vision (unless we choose to contort our bodies to take them in).

We can hear nearly indecipherable, staticky voices coming from a radio. If we listen carefully, we can tell they are talking about the attack, which seems to be very wide-spread indeed, so that we appear to be on the brink of the collapse of civilization.

After a while, a middle-aged woman enters, explaining that she and a man have taken refuge in a farmhouse. He is ill, feverish, and she is nursing him. Her name, we learn, is Diane (Antoinette LaVecchia), and his is Nat (Tony Naumovski). There will be no rescue. They are on their own, trapped with their fear between the birds and the roaming packs of looters who will kill for a packet or rice or a tin of onions.  

The imagery McPherson employs suggests that Diane and Nat are the inhabitants of an Anti-Eden. If this is the case, then the snake appears in the guise of a younger woman, Julia (Mia Hutchinson-Shaw), who shows up one day to sow doubts and threatens to bring down what little balance Diane and Nat (after he regains his strength) have managed to cobble together as they wait out the relentless ebb and flow of the birds. 

The three are like the characters trapped in Sartre’s No Exit, where “hell is other people.” They are forced to get along for survival, which depends on risky excursions in search of food during the breaks in the attacks, as dictated by the tides, but, really, it is a question of which of them will lose it first.    

In the end, this production of The Birds is all about atmosphere and tension and the lack of any real hope for the human race. Director Stefan Dzepardoski focuses almost exclusively on these elements, so that when conflicts arise among the three characters (plus one other, a threatening but ultimately equally helpless neighbor, also played by Mr. Naumovski), it is difficult to worry or care much about them. 

'Tis a bleak universe indeed that is depicted here, and though the will to live endures, it is only a matter of time until the human race will cease to exist. A thoughtful exercise in the extremes of human duress, The Birds may be. But stripped of hope or of characters with whom we can empathize (as Hitchcock understood), all that remains is a portrait of lives in despair. 

Feel free to share this blog with your friends, and to offer up your own theater stories by posting a comment. I also invite you to check out the website Show-Score.Com, where you will find capsule reviews of current plays from Yours Truly and many other New York critics.  


No comments:

Post a Comment