59 East 59th St. between Park & Madison Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through October 1, $20
BirdLand Theatre’s mounting of Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s 2009 adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s short story “The Birds” fails to soar at the small Theater C at 59E59, where it runs through October 1. It’s the same space where Joe Tantalo’s inventive Godlight Theatre Company has staged innovative versions of In the Heat of the Night, Deliverance, and Cool Hand Luke, all based on the original novels rather than the subsequent hit movies. McPherson, the author of such successful plays as The Weir and Shining City, similarly returns to Du Maurier’s original 1952 story, which was completely revamped by screenwriter Evan Hunter for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film, but takes only its bare bones in creating a postapocalyptic nightmare where a kind of makeshift family is essentially trapped in an abandoned lake house that becomes threatened by killer birds every day during high tide. The story is set in New England in the near future, where two middle-age strangers, the calm, competent Diane (Antoinette LaVecchia) and the unpredictable, perhaps mentally unstable Nat (Tony Naumovski), who barrels into the theater in a literally naked fury, have taken refuge from sudden, unexpected vicious attacks by seagulls that have decimated the area — and perhaps the world. They are soon joined by a younger woman, Julia (Mia Hutchinson-Shaw), sporting a head injury. Running out of just about everything, they have to make very specific plans on when and where to go to scavenge for supplies in order to avoid encountering the killer fowl — or other humans desperate to survive. They also need to beware of each other as their cozy little surrogate family gets a whole lot more complicated.
The Birds, which had its world premiere at Dublin’s Gate Theatre in 2009 with Ciarán Hinds as Nat, Sinéad Cusack as Diane, and Denise Gough as Julia, bears little resemblance to the insightful original story and lacks the gripping suspense of the film. Director Stefan Dzeparoski (Wide Awake Hearts, Gruesome Playground Injuries) gets solid performances from the three actors, and Konstantin Roth’s set is intriguing, with the audience sitting at an angle in folding chairs in the four corners of the room, which features some scattered pieces of furniture. Ien Denio’s sound keeps the swarming birds ever-present, but David J. Palmer’s video projections are overly abstract and too difficult to comprehend. The projections inexplicably begin and end with the American flag, while the British Union Jack is represented by a pillowcase lying at the foot of the video wall. The narrative lacks any real bite; situations feel forced (and ultimately melodramatic), the threat of danger is existential at best (even if that is what McPherson was going for, it gets lost here), and most of the ninety minutes are far too uninvolving. At one point, Diane, a writer who is keeping a diary, thinks out loud, “I can’t help feeling that [Nat and Julia] communicate something to each other in the silence. But all I get is the silence. And the strange . . . hatred that consumes me isn’t just for them and their proximity and the claustrophobic pain of never having any privacy — it’s a hatred of myself too.” Those might be good lines, but Dzeparoski needs to show rather than tell those feelings within the drama of the play, which ends up being rather bland and strangely dull despite some promising elements. This time around, The Birds never takes flight.