by Shirley Lorraine
Suspense fuels The Birds at SPTC
The sound of furiously flapping wings permeated the theater as the lights dimmed. Feeling appropriately claustrophobic, brief flashbacks of the classic Alfred Hitchcock film flew through my mind as I awaited the Santa Paula Theater Center’s production of The Birds by Conor McPherson, adapted from the story by Daphne DuMaurier.
McPherson’s stage play focuses on just part of the story using a technique of short scenes punctuated by inner narrative by a key character, mysterious music and the ever-present sound of birds hitting the windows in what can be described as nature exploding with rage. No one knows why the birds have gone crazy and caused mass havoc, only that their attacks seem to follow the high-tides. Protecting one’s own self from the onslaught becomes a physical as well as emotional competition leaving no clear winner. The single interior setting provides a feeling of tentative safety for both the actors and the audience. Until it doesn’t.
In watching this intense psychological thriller, one must first discard any memories of the Hitchcock film. Watch instead the smoothly chilling performances by Taylor Kasch, Kathleen Boswell, Juliana Acosta and Allen Noel as they tread across the mine-field of emotions each brings to the party.
The initial relationship which brought two strangers (Kasch and Boswell) to be taking refuge in an empty house is complicated and incomplete. Just as they are coming to terms with their seemingly inevitable mortality, a third person (Acosta) enters the scene, causing the dynamics to shift. They are wary of the man across the lake (Noel) who provides a brief and thoroughly intimidating appearance colored by his own survival agenda. The fact that they are each expendable heightens the action.
The play is performed without an intermission to break the tension which builds in what I found to be a slowly-paced choppy sequence of insights and vague references. Perhaps it was just me, but I found myself struggling to understand what was happening beyond the obvious. And there apparently was a lot going on with all the characters, either unspoken or assumed, which I just didn’t get from the script itself. Acosta’s character in particular took a while to gel for me as she seemed to fluctuate between childlike innocence and conniving maturity, sometimes within the same sentence. She often spoke quickly and with low tone so I had some difficulty hearing her sometimes.
Don’t get me wrong. The performances are solid and unnerving. However, do not compare this version to the movie taken from the same tale. Treated as a short story piece standing on its own merit, the staged The Birds is a taut thriller capturing a snapshot of a disastrous time, albeit with some plot holes requiring the audience to fill in the gaps with shifting sands.
The play continues its chilling run with performances on Friday and Saturday evenings. NOTE that the curtain rises on Sunday matinees for this show at 4 p.m. instead of the regular 2:30.
Friday & Saturday eves 8 PM, Sundays 4 PM through July 30
Adults $24, Students and Seniors $22