Santa Paula Theatre Center is featuring Conor McPherson’s The Birds through July 30th. For those Flying H Theatre fans out there, this is going to look like an old reunion, as most of the principles were also involved with the sadly defunct Flying H Group, now getting together for another round with this fabulous production of McPherson’s play.
Jeff G. Rack directs, while fellow co-founder of Flying H, the inimitable Taylor Kasch stars. Since these two originally collaborated at the Santa Paula Theatre Center, site of the current play, and a theatre which Rack helped significantly while he was there, it is really a re-union on multiple levels. Kathleen Bosworth, who both directed and acted to great success at the Flying H co-stars.
Kasch, who already has demonstrated a certain affinity with McPherson, plays a tremendous Nat, while Bosworth does much of the play’s heavy lifting. She is on stage for virtually the entire play as it is partially framed by her inner narrative.
Allan Noel, a stalwart at the SPTC plays a part that though not on stage long, dominates part of the psychology and plot throughout, adding just the right amount of wrong, potentially deranged, probably threatening, possibly doomed, not-quite-sure-what-you-are-getting-at-any-given-moment intrusion into the action so critical to a McPherson proceeding that one cannot really call it a “minor part”.
With a huge personal breakthrough part for her, Juliana Acosta plays the alluring young stranger who blasts things wide open after the opening scenes. It is a tricky part, and Acosta handles it well.
Julia (Juliana Acosta - front) recounts the horror of the attack that brought her to seek refuge with Nat (Taylor Kasch) and Diane (Kathleen Bosworth) in Conor McPherson's apocalyptic thriller THE BIRDS live on stage from June 23 - July 30 at the Santa Paula Theater Center, Santa Paula, CA. Photo Credit: Brian Stethem Photography
All the parts are tricky, in part, because McPherson loads so many layers onto the language and plot, with half-sentence references to entire sub-themes, and darkly suggested sub-plots, that each actor is required to play their character forcefully, yet in a sufficiently nuanced, sometimes outright ambiguous manner, so as to contain, or suggest the myriad possibilities and readings that McPherson embeds within the script. Nothing is black and white in McPherson, and in this play, especially so. It is all shades of gray, and black, and darker blacks.
But that is not all. This production is suffused with a powerful, fully unified, artistic vision, integrating all aspects of theatre from the set, to the lights, sound, acting, and props that takes this production far beyond most community theatre--most professional theatre for that matter--delivering a highly satisfying, evening of total theatre. Though dark and foreboding in content, the production is hugely entertaining.
Of particular note in this regard is the masterpiece of a soundscape which includes both sound effects and beautifully scored original music, often intertwined, by Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski. Fabulous stuff.
Gary Richardson’s extremely well-done, psychologically-focused lighting design -- and in this case the lighting more than deserves the “design” rubric-- uses every detail of light from the glow cast from the woodstove to the time of day--to deepen the play’s look and feel. Special kudos to Gail Heck as propmaster, and Barbara Pedziwiatr as costume design, though these elements were clearly collaborative and closely involved with Rack’s overall vision and ideas, they do some things that … well, I’ll not spoil things … definitely enhance the proceedings, let us say.
McPherson’s plays in general tend toward becoming a theatre of ideas, but with cleverly visceral psychological underpinnings, and The Birds is no exception. The Birds play is based on the same Daphne DuMaurier story that inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s film of the same title.
DuMaurier’s somewhat apocalyptic original story attempts to metaphorically capture the psychology of the Blitz of World War II’s Battle of Britain and was set in an English coastal town during the German bombings. As such, besides Hitchcock, it is a close cousin to similar metaphorical depictions of psychological states as depicted in film by Luis Bunuel in Exterminating Angel and elsewhere. Hitchcock takes the story further into apocalyptic territory in an attempt to portray a certain state of mind of the post-war Cold War era. Conor McPherson goes entirely apocalyptic: we are clearly witnessing the last days of humanity. The veneer of civilization is wearing away, and worse, proving to be extremely thin veneer indeed.
In the earlier versions the characters’ connections to the house of refuge is to a certain extent random, in McPherson’s, the house becomes a character in itself with its own skeletons in the closets. In McPherson’s world, the times are darker and even more unsettling: by the end of the play even the demarcation of sanity itself may have blurred and faded, though, to be fair, it is possible to read Hitchcock as attempting something similar with his last shots.
This production gives honor to all of this, and provides a level of theatre rarely seen in the 805 with superb efforts all around. Don’t miss it.
The Birds by Conor McPherson from a story by Daphne DuMaurier
Directed by Jeff G. Rack
Produced by Leslie Nichols
Starring Kathleen Bosworth, Taylor Kasch, Juliana Acosta, Allan Noel
With sets by Jeff G. Rack, Lights by Gary Richardson, Sound and original music by Joseph Slawinski, props by Gail Heck, costumes by Barb Pedziwiatr