BWW Review: Squawking slackers in the compelling world premiere THE WILD PARROTS OF CAMPBELL from NOW Collective at Cherry Lane Studio Theatre
In Sean Gorski's excellent scenic design, an inflatable parrot is perched on the back of a lounge chair. More parrots hang from the eave of the house. One of them, tellingly, has deflated and collapsed onto the gutter's downspout. Three empty beer bottles and two empty Proseccos sit on the table. An accumulation of cigarette butts fills the ashtray. Even the table cover has images of parrots. It's New Year's Eve and time to meet The Wild Parrots of Campbell.
Amanda is the newest resident of this unkempt California home. She brings a camera outside to take photos of the squawking birds which reside on telephone wires nearby. Charlie invited her to live with him after having developed a six month relationship with her online poker playing persona, stubborn-girl-96. Amanda's early take on her new situation is candid. The house contains "dirty dishes and a bunch of losers who don't want me to be here."
Change seems difficult for these slackers. Nikki is the front woman of a feminist punk band. She notices the inside getting cleaner. "She's leaving her mark." Jack understands that his brother's "always brought in strays." Charlie has been grieving since his mother died. He fills his inherited home with humans adrift in financial predicaments and unfocused, yet swirling, seas.
Charlie is unhappy but his online relationship with Amanda helped him cope. She has had her own troubles and his offer was a chance to escape. She's 20 years old and he is 23. The face-to-face encounter isn't exactly going as planned for either of them. She's quiet and off-putting. He's tired of "all the slacker shit" but surrounds himself with that world. The tense energy created by this home intrusion is utterly believable in Alex Riad's world premiere play.
Older brother, the freeloading Jack, is 31 and sits around all day drinking. Jobs suck and not doing them is his rule. He returned to his childhood home last year after a thirteen year absence. Charlie had to take care of his dying mother alone. The bridge between them is vast but a familial sense of responsibility helps their relationship maintain a reasonable co-existence.
Kevin is the fifth person living here. He works at Psycho Donuts (Crazy Good!) with teenage girls. He spends his free time getting stoned as "a day is an easy thing to waste." Kevin is portrayed by Adrian Burke. The character is two-dimensional and the performance is equally two-dimensional. This loser without feelings or depth is so completely realized you knowingly agree when Charlie says that he has the "social skills of a radish." When Kevin is finally needed to step up and say something meaningful other than "cool," the moment was sadly pitiful and vividly realized.
Padraic Lillis directed The Wild Parrots of Campbell and his cast develops all of their naturalistic characters into fully fleshed out, damaged souls. There are (many) slacker laughs to be had. Mr. Riad's play, however, seems more invested in the past traumas endured by these people which caused their symbiotic co-dependence. How did each of them get here? More importantly, will any of them get better in this house together?
Nikki admits hers is "a pretty pathetic life to keep fighting for." I left the theater believing she may have the best shot at a different future. Charlie may be the one with the job at Google but his anxieties seem too deeply rooted. Both appear to manage the outside world more easily than the others - or at least pretend better. Both Kasey Lee Huizinga and John Dimino beautifully inhabit these roles with stark realism and abject fear lurking very near the surface. Their second act scene together exudes a bond of friendship that only years of history can create.
Older brother Jack is filled with warmth, drunkenness, compassion and anger. Why did he not return home until his mother died? Evan Hall is tremendously successful in bringing all facets of this complicated person in a strikingly complete portrait. Jack has a compellingly dramatic scene near the end of the first act. This was the only section of this play where the writing seemed a bit heavy-handed.
Domenica Feraud nicely handles the difficult role of Amanda. She may be the most adrift despite her no smoking or drinking stance. In a houseful of young people surviving emotional injuries, she has not put on as many Band-Aids as the others. When asked "will you ever go home?" she replies "I hope not." The gaping wounds and crusty scars are what make this play so very penetrating.
The parrots are indeed real in Alex Riad's observational and searching character study. They squawk and even say a few phrases. They remind us that words are heard and remembered sometimes long after they've been said. An entertaining piece of theater that managed to get under my skin, The Wild Parrots of Campbell is definitely a trip to the zoo to see slackers. By the end, you'll hope the souls in these particular cages will find peace, love and joy. I'm doubtful and eternally hopeful.
The Wild Parrots of Campbell is playing at the Cherry Lane Studio Theatre in Greenwich Village until December 21, 2019.