by Macey Levin
To be clear! The title of the short story The Birds by Daphne Du Maurier written in 1952 is the only thing the play, currently at Barrington Stage Company’s St. Germain Theatre, has in common with Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller of 1963.
The play has a prescient quality in that the human race is doomed due to climate change, a phrase that does not occur in the play. Because of a change in environmental conditions nature has turned on itself creating an uninhabitable planet. Birds, whose migratory patterns have been disrupted because of a change in global warmth and tides, cluster by the thousands seeking food and devastating the landscape, ultimately attacking animals and humans. Tierney (Rocco Sisto,) a farmer, says, “The bluejays killed my dog.”
Diane (Kathleen McNenny) and Nat (Stevie Ray Dallimore) stumble across each other after they have abandoned their cars on a road. They wend their way through woods attempting to avoid an assault until they discover a run-down lakeside cottage. They become aware that the birds’ aggressive actions come only during high tide, giving them an opportunity to leave the house to scavenge for food and other supplies in a local village that has been ravaged by the birds; their acquisitions are meager. They have also seen Tierney carrying a shotgun on the other side of the lake, but it appears to be too far to travel to contact him. After they establish a routine and modify their intake of food and water, they are joined by Julia (Sasha Diamond) a young woman who says that she has fled a group of predatory humans. Her entrance into their lives changes the dynamic of Diane and Nat’s daily existence.
The problem with the play is that it is a predictable science-fiction melodrama. Written by Conor McPherson, based on Du Maurier’s short story, the play’s events evolve through numerous scenes, some only a moment or two in length, several being anti-climactic, and several voiceovers from Diane that telegraph coming moments. Though the audience fears for the characters’ lives, it is difficult to have an affinity for any of them. They, much like the birds, attack each other as they try to fight against the inevitability facing them.
The core of the production is Ms. McNenny. She holds the stage and the play with forceful control as she attempts to find the most plausible means to face the imminent disastrous conflicts awaiting them. She allows Diane’s vulnerabilities to show through in moments of doubt and frustration but finds the strength to move forward. She does commit one fearful act that she embraces with quiet acceptance as a necessity.
At first, Ms. Diamond’s Julia is charming as the Bible-touting, palm-reading naif. But her penchant for self-protection and deception introduces corruption into Diane and Nat’s well-ordered search for sanity in the midst of horrendous circumstances. It is a performance of mercurial changes that Diamond does so well.
Rocco Sisto is a chilling and pathetic Tierney. He looks like a man to be feared with his scraggly beard, deep-set eyes, scruffy clothes and shotgun in hand. Despite his offer of sustenance his plea for help is spurned.
The weak point in the play is Mr. Dallimore. Many of his line readings sound like line readings instead of a response to what has been said or is happening around him. There’s a sense of artificiality in his work. He’s much more effective in those scenes where he can be taciturn.
Director Boyd is undermined by the script and a weak performance. Her staging is effective and the creation of most of the relationships is dramatically sound. Because of the numerous scenes some of the set changes are a touch too long interrupting the flow of the play. This, again, is the script. But, Boyd does know how to stir an audience.
What is effective is the technical work. The set, this cluttered, claustrophobic cottage, designed by David M. Barber, is chilling, literally and figuratively, and helps to create the tension the characters sense. His work is complemented by Brian Tovar’s light design that underlines the stress surrounding the characters in their dilapidated dwelling.
On each side of the stage there are floor-to-ceiling screens for various projections, created by Alex Basco Koch, of marauding swarms of birds, forests, rain and clouds, all contributing to the eerie, frightening atmosphere of The Birds. David Thomas’s sound design has disquieting bird noises throughout the running of the play, many of which emanate from around the theatre creating a disquieting mood.
This may not be the most dynamic play you will see this summer, but it has enough to recommend it for an interesting and evocative evening in the theatre.
The Birds by Conor McPherson, based on the short story by Daphne du Maurier; Directed by Julianne Boyd; Cast: Kathleen McNenny (Diane) Stevie Ray Dallimore (Nat) Sasha Diamond (Julia) Rocco Sisto (Tierney); Scene design: David M. Barber; Lighting design: Brian Tovar; Costume design: Elivia Bovenzi; Sound design: David Thomas; Projection design: Alex Basco Koch; Stage Manager: Michael Andrew Rogers; Running Time: 90 minutes; no intermission; Barrington Stage Company, St. Germain Stage in the Sydelle and Lee Blatt Performing Arts Center, 36 Linden Street, Pittsfield, MA; From 6/15/17; opening 6/18/17; closing 7/8/17; Reviewed by Macey Levin at June 20 performance.