A sign at the entrance of The Birds warns audience members that the production contains the use of fog and nudity. However, neither of the two aspects of the play that require warning are shocking or frightening, despite the clear intention that they are.
Receiving its New York premiere at 59E59 Theaters, The Birds was adapted by Conor McPherson from Daphne Du Maurier’s 1952 novelette of the same name. Originally penned as a tale of post-World War II dystopia, The Birds, which also served as inspiration for the famous Alfred Hitchcock film, told the story of a farm community suffering attacks by flocks of birds after the conclusion of World War II.
McPherson’s adaptation does not state the year in which it is set, but it presumably takes place in America, given the image of a tattered American flag projected on the wall. Audience members are slowly allowed to enter the room in small groups before finding their seats, which are arranged in four small groups surrounding the performance space. While surrounding the cast enhances the feeling of claustrophobia that is meant to permeate the performance, the seats are not elevated so audience members are forced to fidget and crane their necks in order to see the action.
That’s not to say there is much action to see. There is Diane (Antoinette LaVecchia), a writer who is stranded at an abandoned house with Nat (Tony Naumovski), who is struck with a delirious fever and, after recovering, confides in Diane about his troubled psychological history. The two set up house, timing the bird attacks by the tides and foraging for food and water. Then comes the young and sensual Julia (Mia Hutchinson-Shaw) to disrupt the domesticity and the inevitable and predictable ensues.
The premise of The Birds offers great opportunity to explore environmental and political conflict, examining the collapse of the environment and the economy, but, under Stefan Dzeparoski’s direction, any kind of conflict is disappointingly tepid. Rather than an exploration of the impact of a contemporary apocalypse, the play presents a weak love triangle, reaching its small-scale heights during a feeble attempt at a birthday celebration. When Nat’s past in a psychiatric ward was mentioned, this critic thought that was an indication of future disaster, but it is never explored. This is no small part due to Konstantin Roth’s set, which is dark and bleak and, to those in the back rows, invisible, and Kia Rogers’ bleak lighting. Kate R. Mincer designed the appropriately tattered costumes, Ien DeNio the ominous sound, and David J. Palmer the video.
How the human race, currently glued to its hand-held devices and modern-day conveniences, might actually face the apocalypse is an intriguing idea for an intimate performance. But while the The Birds certainly presents claustrophobia, misguided symbolism and boredom are also served in equal doses.