Off-Broadway Review: “The Birds” Overreaches at 59E59 Theaters

September 15, 2016 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
Off-Broadway Review: “The Birds” at 59E59 Theaters (Closed Sunday October 2, 2016)
By Conor McPherson from the Short Story by Daphne Du Maurier
Directed by Stefan Dzeparoski
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

When the director and creative team of a play conspire in every way to make it difficult to see their product, it should meet with immediate suspicion. Instead, trusting audience members allowed themselves to be ushered into 59E59 Theater C and to be plopped into a bizarre configuration of seats – all on the same level – seemingly designed to make sure no one could see the entire performance of “The Birds.” Throughout the ninety minutes, audience members twisted in their seats, stood up and craned their necks all in the vain effort to see just what was happening on the stage. Most made a valiant effort while some just gave in and dropped off to sleep – some just a few feet from the actors.

This reviewer still has no idea what the character Diane scrawls on the floor in chalk at the beginning of the play or what contraption the character Nat constructs (were there tiny human figures involved perhaps?) at the play’s end. And a full two-thirds of the audience cannot see David J. Palmer’s video design as it plays out on one wall of the small space. What director Stefan Dzeparoski and set designer Konstantin Roth were thinking remains a mystery – except they cared not one bit whether anyone could see the actors work their craft. There is no “esoteric phenomenon” here, just very bad design and careless direction.

The actors are trying their best to make sense of Mr. Dzeparoski’s staging of Conor McPherson’s 2009 adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s 1952 novelette “The Birds.” Although audiences might be more familiar with Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film adaptation, they will immediately recognize Mr. McPherson’s similar reimagining of Ms. Du Maurier’s story of a family under attack as a story involving new characters (not related by birth) and a more elaborate plot. Ms. Du Maurier’s post-World War II dystopian tale is truly horrifying and quite frightening as is Mr. Hitchcock’s Cold War apocalyptic tale. It is probable that Mr. McPherson’s adaptation might be equally chilling in a post September 11, 2011 world; unfortunately, it is difficult to make that determination based on this Birdland production which does more to obfuscate Du Murier’s original appeal than reimagine it as a contemporary apocalyptic vision.

In all three cases, the unrelenting attack of the birds serves as a trope for all things imagined and real that threaten personal and global wellbeing, security, and longevity. The problem with Mr. Dzeparoski’s staging is that it leaves the audience unmoved, unconcerned about any of the characters under attack in the abandoned house, and even less concerned about how they fare after deciding to leave the relative safety of the house. His staging removes the broadcast chatter at the beginning of McPherson’s script – which does much to increase suspense and fear – and adds a bizarre reappearance of Julia at the end (the interloper and family system threat) as a birdlike creature carrying a large egg. Worry not, after almost ninety minutes of confusion on the stage, there is no need to try to figure out the bird-woman’s importance in the grand scheme of things.

Antoinette LaVecchia (Diane), Tony Naumovski (Nat and Tierney – though he is not given the second credit in the program), and Mia Hutchinson-Shaw (Julia) seem to be completely adrift on the squeezed-tight claustrophobic stage as they ramble from radio to kitchen to bedroom to who knows where trying to be frightened of the birds but most likely wondering why the audience is twisting and turning and popping up and down trying to see where the actors are going or from whence they came. Clearly the lack of success of this production lies squarely at the feet of the director whose vision of Conor McPherson’s script remains a mystery. Hopefully the folks at Birdland Theatre will evaluate this production with a sharp focus on their understanding of the purpose of the playwright’s rich and dense text. If a producer knows that a patron’s cell phone making a bizarre noise for quite a long time cannot easily be distinguished from Ien Denno’s sound design, it is time for a trip back to the drawing board.