Chicago Theater Review: THE BIRDS (Griffin Theatre Company at Theater Wit)

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by Lawrence Bommer on June 15, 2015

in Theater-Chicago


This is not Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, a 1963 horror fest about being pecked to death and delighting in Tippi Hedrin and Suzanne Pleshette’s contagious distress. It’s also not Hell in a Handbag’s recently revived The Birds: For all its ingenious thrills that campy creation was hobbled by a kill-joy Camille Paglia who drily commented on the mayhem. No, surprisingly tender considering its irascible Irish playwright, Conor McPherson’s 95-minute version of Daphne du Maurier’s anti-avian short story is more intrigued by the psychology of survival than in special effects or social commentary.


Griffin Theatre’s well-tooled Chicago premiere, competently helmed by Kevin Kingston, sees the end of the world through the eyes of endangered bipeds. Eric Vigo’s meticulously detailed setting depicts the cluttered, lived-in parlor of an abandoned country house near a New England lake. Here three strangers find refuge from fearsome flocks that attack at high tide. Their recognizable stratagems for coping with inter-species warfare go beyond putting chain link and wooden barriers across the windows. Their remote and embattled cabin becomes a temporary shelter to keep alive some hope for the future of the human race. Meanwhile, between ornithological assaults and scary sounds from upstairs they scrounge for food and smokes, try to generate electricity, and fight off boredom (a bit too well conveyed here). The only music they have is a tape of Chopin nocturnes (but you could do a lot worse than this). There’s nothing virtual here and reality is non-negotiably uncompromising.


A voice-over narration relates the increasingly troubled excerpts from a diary kept by Diane (Jodi Kingsley). She’s a failed novelist and mom whose natural neediness is exacerbated by the imminent extinction of our species. Diane is joined by a nervous survivor, a former father named Nat (Keith Neagle): He seeks solace in invalidism and an outlet in paranoia. Into their occupied cabin arrives teenage Julia (Emily Nichelson), religious where Diane is skeptical and a potential rival for Nat’s affection. Finally, we briefly meet the eccentric neighbor from across the lake, pill-popping Tierney (David Krajecki) whose sister owns the house the trio have invaded. It seems he’s there to dramatically divide and conquer the threesome and break a love triangle into a square. But, no, this is no hostage situation: He too is just trying to get to tomorrow.


Wanting to see the sun come up one more time is not necessarily dramatic. But The Birds is realistic enough. So are the regrets, relief, and quiet victories that distinguish these dwellers in darkness. The alliances of convenience they establish, the occasional refusal to share adversity equally, the flailing of a rifle that also bars the door–these developments carry as much weight as the angry birds screeching outside (frighteningly present in Stephen Ptacek’s scary sound design).


Judging from quotes from reviews, Kingston’s staging isn’t quite as tautly terrifying or creepily claustrophobic as the Irish original. But there’s merit and matter in the one act’s questioning of who the real killers are and how they got addicted to their victims’ anguish. Such matters at least are not for the birds.


photos by Michael Brosilow

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Griffin Theatre Company
Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.
Thurs – Sat at 7:30; Sun at 3
scheduled to end on July 19, 2015
for tickets, call (773) 975-8150
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