The Birds, by Conor McPherson, based on the short story by Daphne Du Maurier. Directed by Julianne Boyd. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Kathleen McNenny as Diane, Stevie Ray Dallimore as Nat, Sasha Diamond as Julia; photo: Scott Barrow
"As long as there is kindness, there's hope. . .right?"
Stevie Ray Dallimore; photo: Scott Barrow
In Scene 16 of Conor McPherson's play, "The Birds" we are faced with the concept of a new beginning, a tale retold, a hope rekindled. In the current Barrington Stage Company production director Julianne Boyd has made some changes to the author's concept, altering and editing a voice-over speech, adding a moment that is definitely not scripted and, in doing these things, altering toward the positive viewpoint, a play that has been going gradually and ineffably down a slippery slope regarding the future of mankind as a result of mankind's stupidity. Her choices in this scene are reflective of a vast sense of the world's wasted possibilities and its limited probabilities. For the start of a long summer season of plays on all subjects this play, and this moment in the play, seem to take into consideration everything we are watching on television news in mid-June, 2017. The play is ten years old and that makes its author into a visionary, someone we may not want to stay too close to, although, maybe we should hold fast to his vision. It could be our best hope for salvation.
Daphne DuMaurier's novella which inspired not only this 2008 play but Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 film is much more despairing a piece than either of its adaptations. In it the hero ends the book ready to die, to remove himself from the war-plane-like onslaught of killer birds. Often seen as a metaphor for life in Britain during WWII, the short fiction piece is faithfully mournful from beginning to end. The film ended with a brighter future for its two heros and his small family on the California coast. McPherson's play set in a small town in Coastal Maine, uses the metaphor of tides and tidal control of earthly assets to provide space for his characters to contemplate their future and the future of the planet in a time of global climate change.
Forget Hitchcock completely. No pale blonde is attacked or attached to the strong, dominate male who saves her over and over. Forget the DuMaurier if you've read it. This play is its own entity. This play speaks to us today in a Trumped-up world where we neglect, officially, the end-result of our own foolishness regarding the environment. This play is as relevant as an MSNBC newscast, as important to see and understand as the Constitution. In this play Boyd and her cast bring us a vision of next year, or the year after that. People with a suicidal nature should avoid this play, but the rest of us must see it and take heed.
The performance of Stevie Ray Dallimore as Nat, the man who is rescued by the heroine/narrator and who transforms himself from a total loser into the hope for a future mankind, is superb. He plays the tiny moments of transition with the strength and clarity found in his bigger and broader scenes of violence, emotional fragility and momentary joy. His journey from human to humane is amazing to witness and his shape-shifting from fragile and frightened to concerned and caring is just as thrilling to watch. This is a voyage for Nat that is experienced rather than witnessed. He brings utter reality to the small St. Germain stage and it is a tremendous event in a series of small happenings.
Sasha Diamond, Kathleen McNenney; photo: Scott Barrow
Rocco Sisto; photo: Scott Barrow
Rocco Sisto in the important but brief role of Tierney, a farmer whose home across the lake faces the cabin in the woods that Nat and his new-found companion Diane have discovered, plays a dangerous soul without fear of retribution. Tierney is a taker who takes his time to find his moment and then, like a stalker or serial criminal, makes his move and plays out his own personal scenario. In one of the play's lighter moments Tierney's discovery of the actual identity of the woman he has decided to molest moves him from potential rapist to grateful fan and the change is delightful. For the most part, though, Sisto uses his character's motives to present a true threat and a negative force. It is a devastating performance that should have had more stage time, but even his odd departure leaves an impression of a man whose humanity has slipped into near-oblivion.
The two women in the play carry the heaviest burden. Sasha Diamond as the young intruder, Julia, is outrageously non-seductive in a role that allows for seduction to be the obvious play. This is a well-conceived performance through which the other two principal characters may present their baser sides without harming their own relationship which is fragile from the start. Diamond plays a very complex girl whose answer to everything is instantly straight-forward but always conceals a different intent. She plays this well, confusing us as often as possible, saying one thing, meaning another and doing something else. Clearly Boyd has worked hard to give us, through this actress's abilities, a picture of what mistakes we make in forging our own futures. Julia is the most vulnerable of the three and yet she is the most self-assured.
Diane, the narrator/heroine, is played with utmost pathos by Kathleen McNenny. The actress does the impossible, staying totally surface while exposing her deepest fears, her hard-lost happiness, and her inspiration for mankind's potential. She plays on so many levels simultaneously that each performance must exhaust her completely. This is a character worthy of our greatest actresses and McNenny never disappoints. Diane, in all of her variations, is a goddess thrust into the depths and told to find her way home. . .if she can. McNenny's Diane is a determined woman who will, in spite of the obvious odds, do just that given the time.
On a fine David M. Barber set in the outrageously simple and suitable costumes by Elivia Bovenzi, and with the constant aid of lighting designer Brian Tovar, the projections b y Ales Basco Koch and the superb sound design by David Thomas, Boyd moves her people through this story like a Moses approaching the Red Sea. The production's look and sound give you the fear felt by the characters. The director's vision brings you their eternal sense of possiblity. This is not your typical summer fare, not like the Hitchcock movie would have been. This is important theater presented in an important way and in the intimate St. Germain theater in Pittsfield, we do become the flies on the wall, destined for the same bird-pecked future as the people we watch so closely.
The Birds plays on the St. Germain Stage in the Blatt Center for the Arts, 36 Linden Street, Pittsfield, MA through July 8. For information and tickets call the box office at 413-236-8888 or to on line to www.barringtonstageco.org.