A review of Conor McPherson’s “The Birds,” which Strawberry Theatre Workshop is staging through Feb. 20 at 12th Ave Arts.
On stage, as on film, dramatizing Daphne du Maurier’s nightmarish short story “The Birds” is a sound designer’s good dream.
For the Seattle premiere of Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s loose 2009 adaptation of the horror tale, designer Brendan Patrick Hogan must have had a blast creating the audio for a futuristic avian apocalypse. And it’s the scariest, and most weirdly satisfying, aspect of the Strawberry Theatre Workshop production of a less-than-soaring script.
As in the famed Alfred Hitchcock 1963 movie set in Bodega Bay, Calif., and in du Maurier’s Cornwell-set novelette, massive flocks of birds are for unknown reasons mercilessly bombarding humans.
by Conor McPherson. Through Feb. 20, Strawberry Theatre Workshop at 12th Ave Arts, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle; $36 (800-838-3006 or strawshop.org).
In this telling, it’s happening on a tidal schedule of every six hours.
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As three strangers cower in a lakeside cabin somewhere, they regularly endure a sonic onslaught during these raids: a din of cawing, squawking, screeching, screaming, flapping and the harrowing thuds of birds bashing themselves against roofs and windows as they try to invade and peck some human eyes out.
It’s enough to drive the divorced writer Diane (Sarah Harlett), the middle-aged Nat (Shawn Belyea) and swaggering teen Julia (Meme Garcia) cuckoo — but not quite enough to sustain the existential freight they’re forced to carry in McPherson’s thinly developed eco-allegory.
One by one, the three seek shelter in this remote, rustic and authentic-looking wooden cottage, huddling together between short salvaging expeditions for food. With two females and one male in residence, civilization recedes and primal interdependence, suspicion, distrust and jealousy take over. Darwinian sexual triangle? Naturally.
Splintered into many short scenes, there’s a cinematic quality to the scripting that’s interrupted by many mini-intervals of furniture moving and prop shifting by the actors and a stagehand. We learn not much about the characters (including an interloper played by Sean Nelson), so their three-way relationship and oblique biblical/philosophical reflections on the end of humanity are not terribly consequential. Nor is the environmental disaster implication elaborated.
Bright spots: The rough-wood set looks great, thanks to its multiple designers. Greg Carter’s cunningly suspenseful staging, and the exposed-nerve jumpiness of the cast (especially the nuanced Belyea and Harlett), crank up a claw-full of very tense and entertaining jolts. So do all those earsplitting bird attacks.
For more sustained entertainment, though, I refer to you to Hitch’s movie. Whether you get the Cold War allegory or not, it’s still a thriller-diller.