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.