BWW Review: Garden Theatre's THE BIRDS Isn't the Hitchcock You Came For...
At the outset, it must be said that the Garden Theatre did all it could.
The producers placed stuffed birds throughout the lobby.
They piped the haunting sounds of squawking to the speakers outside.
They brought in ODD•O•T performers to play the part of besieged townsfolk on the streets of Winter Garden (to highly festive effect).
They introduced the best-looking set I've ever seen on the Garden stage.
And they cast four capable actors who did their very best too.
So when the audience declined to offer an ovation at the end of the show, I don't think it had a thing to do with the theater or the performances.
It's just that THE BIRDS is a bust, and no one - not even Hitchcock - could save it.
...Not this version of it, anyway. When the Master of Suspense shot his 1963 classic, he based it on a short story by Daphne Du Maurier but took liberties aplenty. The result? One of the greatest movies ever made.
This play's similarities to the movie you know begin and end with its title and the very basic premise it implies: the birds have run amuck. It, too, is loosely adapted from Maurier. But if this take on the tale has anyone on the edge of their seat, it's only that they're eager to leave.
Playwright Conor McPherson's version of THE BIRDS is all about mood. When it opens, the winged killers have already invaded and left most people dead. We spend the entire two-act play (which mercifully runs just 90 minutes, intermission included) with three of the survivors while they talk about... well, I don't really remember, except that it was never very compelling and only occasionally about the birds. The vibe is creepy, to be sure, but you only get so much mileage out of mood alone.
Occasionally, a character will do something rash. "Finally," you think. "Something interesting." But when it comes out of nowhere and has absolutely no payoff, you realize McPherson was just trying to stuff his dying BIRDS back to life. It never works.
"Dear God," a patron in front of me exclaimed immediately upon intermission. "I need somebody to commit murder or sing a song. Otherwise I'm going to die." Touché.
By all means, a new take on Hitchcock's story would be welcome. I don't think anyone came to the Garden demanding fidelity. But THE BIRDS' problem isn't that it's different; it's that it's listless and flat.
That really is a shame, because Matthew Rush, Tara Anderson, and Sarah Lockard give it their all. I fully believe that they are their characters, annoyingly angst-ridden as those characters may be. Bob Brandenburg, too, is affecting in his brief time on stage as a suspicious neighbor.
Director / sound designer Aradhana Tiwari, along with artistic director Rob Winn Anderson and the rest of the crew, are to be commended for recognizing the one and only thing THE BIRDS has going for it as written - atmosphere - and bringing that to life. In a winning touch, the cast stayed on stage throughout intermission, loudly hammering wood over windows to fend off feathered intruders. If nothing else, I'll say this for the Garden's BIRDS: it's the most memorable intermission I've had.
But alas, McPherson's version of THE BIRDS is akin to a Psycho staging where Marion Crane monologues inside a shower for 90 minutes and mumbles something about a knife at the end. Let's hope the Garden puts its spirited touch to something a little more thrilling next Halloween.
Want to see it for yourself? THE BIRDS runs through October 28. To purchase tickets, visit the Garden Theatre's website or call (407) 877-4736.
What did you think of THE BIRDS at Garden Theatre? Let me know on Twitter @AaronWallace.
Photo Credit: Garden Theatre