THE CHILLING TALE OF SURVIVAL ‘THE BIRDS’ ARE UNCAGED AT THE ALTARENA
Writer Conor McPherson's 2009 adaptation of the Daphne du Maurier short story inspired the classic Alfred Hitchcock film, 'The Birds.'
Review by Vince Mediaa
Birds have flocked to the High Street Park in Alameda, and are invading the Playhouse across the street. Altarena Playhouse continues to celebrate their iconic 85th season of Bay Area Theatre with the one act play THE BIRDS now at their High Street Stage only through September 10th. This suspenseful play is a smart emotional drama that inspired Alfreds Hitchcock classic film THE BIRDS that deals with conflict and the psyches of post-apocalyptic survivors love and death. The birds are at the center of disharmony a scenario famously described in the Bible’s Book of Revelation.
Director Kimberly Ridgeway says “The beautiful thing about this play is that it is directly from the source material. We don’t have to compete with the story line of the film. The characters each have a backstory riddled in pain and trauma, a lot of what we hear .. but there is a common throughline … hope. They each hope for something as the hope for the world and humanity.”
In THE BIRDS the tension is so intense on the intimate Altarena stage it gives us that immersive feel as the birds attack the farmhouse. You have the urge to cover your face or use your playbill to block the bird droppings. As the cast hides from the approaching menace, you want to curl up and hide with them. The cabin set by Tom Curtin is entirely within the confines of a New England abandoned farmhouse where three people have taken refuge. Crazed zombie type birds attack the home and have chased or killed people in the local towns and vicinity.
We meet novelist Diane played by the gifted actor Gabriella Goldstein who has taken refuge in the rustic home. She has found an ill stranger Nat played by the compelling Richard Perez and is nursing him back to health. Recorded voice overs provide Diane’s inner thoughts, as she writes in her journal. Goldstein gives an emotional performance that at times makes her as evil as the Birds trying to kill her. Diane becomes the mother figure for the other survivors she’s hiding with. Her loneliness brings the dark side to the story. Their only excursions to the outside world involve finding food and alcohol, which is very scarce. With the arrival of a refugee teen named Julia, Nat and Diane's lives are thrown into disorder as their paranoia slowly sets in.
Julie, played by the genuine Gwynnevere Cristobal, enters the home and the story becomes more interesting. Cristobal creates a quirky, uplifting character as the teen rather than someone fearing death. It is refreshing to see her disrupted the dynamics inside the hideout. Her misinterpreted comments about where she has found food also indicates she plays a clever game.
This psychological romp, allows the three to find a hiding spot but not peace. They are always on edge and distrust each other and of course they are paranoid. Jealousy is a fever between the two women, and Nate does his best to comfort both of them. Nate tries to explain himself to Diane, she assures him, “Society’s gone, Nat. No one’s keeping score. So you can do what you want.”
As Julia and Nate leave the home to find food, there is a sudden arrival of a neighbor Tirney played by local favorite Tim Holt Jones. Diane being alone with this man causes further tension. Wearing a protective suit and sharing a basket of gifts, he warns her that the other two will soon have no use for her. He offers her his stash of painkillers, “If you take them with a drink, they make time pass quicker.” This farmer who’s been watching the three creates a sexually threatening presence. Perez and Goldstein use their awkward relationship and language of strangers early in the play to discover their sexual sparks. This story has a haunting sense of hope and loneliness as Diane, Nat and then mysterious newcomer Julia build a short lived community.
The sound effects by Daniel Debono are a highly effective, crucial part of the story. When the birds are loud and pounding the home, we know it’s high tide. At other times, the sounds are gone, at low tide, and the survivors have limited time to go outside to find food. Nia Simone Jacobs' costumes could give that The Walking Dead feel yet at times for Nate's birthday the look is very dapper. The Walking Dead reference does come to mind as the Birds are beak killers much like zombies. The dramatic lighting by Stephanie Johnson is gloomy with a red glow when the Birds fly through the Altarena. The added pools of light as Diane writes in her diary bounce off the blue feel we get. Fight director Jeremy Letheule brings the tension with the cast to a provoking fright as they fight from the fear they are facing. Props by the talented Dianne Harrison include a rustic portable radio, cans of food, drink glasses and a bible. Later some weapons are introduced but the highlight of the images include the masks and protective hats.
THE BIRDS isn't a horror story, but a psychological thriller. McPherson explores the fear and crises of three individuals at the end of their lives. As the world is destroyed around them, will they accept that certain death. The show runs 90 minutes with no intermission, making it a tense experience. The play is well staged and Director Ridgeway brings you right into the farmhouse room. As the birds pound the windows - you will feel the need to hide with the cast. This is a dark moving story to add to your summer theatre season and the Altarena is always excellent at presenting some of the Bay Area's best actors. Next up the Playhouse is Lauren Gunderson’s MISS BENNET: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY. But in the meantime bring your garden hat and bird feed for THE BIRDS.
ALTARENA PLAYHOUSE PRESENTS
By Conor McPherson story by Daphne du Maurier
Directed by Kimberly Ridgeway
Artistic Director, Katina Psihos Letheule
Must Close September 10, 2023.
Altarena Playhouse, 1409 High St., Alameda
Running time: 90 min no intermission
Tickets $35 Adult, $33 Senior, $33 for Students
Ticket Info: altarena.org
Photos by Grizzly De Haro
Tim Holt Jones
Artistic Director: Katina Psihos Letheule
Director: Kimberly Ridgeway
Stage Manager: Vicki Kagawan
Tech Director: Brian Grove
Set Designer: Tom Curtin
Set Construction: Tom Curtin
Lighting Designer: Stephanie Johnson
Sound Designer: Daniel "Techno" Debono
Scenic Artisan: Helen Rivas
Costume Designer: Nia Simone Jacobs
Property Designer: Dianne Harrison