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Aisle Say On The Square: The Grim Future Ain’t What It Used To Be

Aisle Say On The Square: The Grim Future Ain’t What It Used To Be

Though Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s play The Birds is billed (pun intended?) as being “from the story by Daphne du Maurier” (which is actually a novella), it really has nothing much to do with it, except to lift the basic premise as a springboard for his own story (much as screenwriter Evan Hunter and director Alfred Hitchcock did for the 1961 film). The premise? Nature has gone berserk, and birds are gathering everywhere to attack humankind, making venturing outside a potentially lethal proposition and daily life an exercise in resourceful survival, with ever-shrinking supplies.

McPherson’s characters are a grown man with dicey mental stability (Tony Naumovsky); a middle-aged, divorced writer (Antoinette Lavecchia); and an older-teenaged girl (Mia Hutchinson-Shaw) with an enigmatic and possibly sinister subtext. Brought together out of survivalist necessity, they form a precariously balanced nuclear family. At 59E59, the production, efficiently directed by Stefan Dzeparoski, and as efficiently acted by the cast, occupies the postage stamp black box Theater C space and is more-or-less-but-not-quite surrounded by the audience in three sections.

The Birds is a moderately engaging intermissionless 90 minutes, but as my companion of the evening observed, the enormity of worldwide apocalypse is a damnably hard thing to put forth onstage with a power commensurate to the catastrophe, because on a small scale, all you can really do is focus on claustrophobic isolation (think Samuel Beckett’s Endgame); even if you have a bit of fun tracking a metaphorical disintegration of society (think Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros), it really only goes one way: everybody changes except the one man who can’t. (In Austin Pendleton’s play, Orson’s Shadow, Orson Welles, directing a production of Rhinoceros, bemoans its schematic formula and says to his lead actor, “Show me the dramatic tension in that and I’ll go down on you, I swear.” And yes, Pendleton did knowingly borrow the epithet from an infamous Welles recording session, but we won’t digress further.) The point is, stage magic only takes you so far with this kind of subject matter. And as I think of it further, the biggest problem may be that a black box stage, at its best, is used to evoke a full detailed universe and solicit the imagination of the audience in helping to fill it out. But when the universe is increasingly empty…there’s not that much filling out work for your imagination to do.

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Off Broadway

David Spencer is an award-winning composer-lyricist, lyricist-librettist, author and musical theatre teacher. He has written music and lyrics for the Richard Rodgers Development Award-winning musical The Fabulist, which also contributed to his winning a Kleban lyrics award and several Gilman & Gonzalez-Falla Theatre Foundation grants. He is also lyricist-librettist for two musicals with composer Alan Menken: Weird Romance (WPA 1992, York 2004) and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, which had its sold out, extended world premiere in Montreal in Summer 2015; cast album release soon. He made his professional debut in 1984 with the English Adaptation of La Bohéme at the Public Theatre; and he has since written music and lyrics for Theatreworks/USA’s all-new, award-winning Young Audience versions of The Phantom of the Opera (1996) and Les Misérables (1999) (book and direction for both by Rob Barron). Currently he is writing book, music and lyrics for a musical based on the iconic Russian novel The Golden Calf. Spencer’s published books are the Alien Nation novel Passing Fancy (Pocket, 1994), The Musical Theatre Writer’s Survival Guide (Heinemann, 2005, a regularly reprinted industry standard) and the script of Weird Romance (Samuel French, 1993). He is on faculty and teaches at the BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop and has taught at HB Studio, the Workshop Studio Theater and Goldsmith’s College in London. His primary professional affiliations are BMI, The Dramatists Guild and The International Association of Media Tie-in Writers.

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