Latest Guthrie production is for the birds

In the program notes for The Birds, playwright Conor McPherson talks about his youthful love of George A. Romero's zombie movies. It's an easy connection to see, as the play -- just like the original Daphne du Maurier short story or the famous Alfred Hitchcock movie -- deals with characters trapped at the end of the world.

I just wish he had taken other lessons from Romero films, like providing characters that we can, at least initially, care about. Instead, we spend 90 minutes in this Guthrie Theater production at the end of the world with characters we never build much sympathy for, except that it's terrible to be terrorized by flocks of birds.

We join the apocalypse already in progress, amid the noise of a bird attack outside of a farmhouse, our two main characters -- Nat (J.C. Cutler) and Diane (Angela Timberman) -- trapped in the darkness. The radio is filled with static and eventually will go silent, and as far as the pair of strangers know, they are the last two people to have survived the endless waves of bird attacks.

Sunlight eventually arrives, but the unease stays, especially as a third person, Julia (Summer Hagen), joins them in the house, creating a ready-made boiling point. There's also the mysterious figure they see across the lake (Stephen Yoakam) that just adds to the bad mood (along with, of course, the steady threat of birds pecking your eyes out).

Latest Guthrie production is for the birds
Photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp

It's hard to connect to a thriller without some sympathy, at least initially, with the characters. This is a particularly unlikeable quartet, meaning that whatever twists and turns happen don't carry enough emotional weight to keep the audience engaged. 

I think the production could also amp up the absurdity of everything that's happening. In the same note, McPherson mentions both Pinter and Beckett, and his Birds could have been greatly improved by deploying some of the deft humor found in those playwrights' direst works.

The production, helmed by Henry Wishcamper and featuring excellent scenic (Wilson Chin) and lighting (Matthew Richards) designs, gives us the unease, but I wanted more from a piece with this kind of pedigree.


The Birds
Dowling Studio
The Guthrie Theater, 818 S. 2nd St., Minneapolis
Through April 8
For tickets, call 612.377.2224 or visit online

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