Saturday, February 17, 2018
Stage

Attack of 'The Birds' at American Stage

Remember that scene in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, when Tippi Hedren led children past a playground, where dozens of crows perched on a gym set, waiting to peck their eyes out? • Well, forget it during American Stage's season opener The Birds, loosely adapted by Irish playwright Conor McPherson from the Daphne du Maurier novelette Hitchcock mostly ignored. • Same species, three different sorts of terror. • McPherson's The Birds is a psychological horror story, 15 scenes of muted tension in close quarters while death flaps its wings outside. As in so outside that nary a bird will be visible on stage, in stark contrast to Hitchcock's bloody-beak swarms attacking.

The horror is intended to be in the audience's collective eye, through lighting manipulations, insinuating feathers and a battery of speakers strategically placed in Raymond James Theater for scare tactics.

"I hope we can scare the bejeezus out of them," director and sound designer Todd Olson said, calling this production — only the second staging of The Birds in the southeastern U.S. — his "guilty pleasure" of the season.

"We have some tricks in store. ... There's lots of evidence of the birds, and it's a pretty active soundscape. We're putting in more speakers, doing more with sound in that room than we ever have before. The idea is that the audience is caught in the house with these people."

Actor Richard B. Watson added: "I don't think it's going to be passive in this room, (with the audience) just sitting back to watch."

Watson plays Nat, who along with Diane (Roxanne Fay) are brittle survivors of this unexplained birdemic, strangers sharing a farmhouse and scavenging supplies. A third survivor named Julia (Gretchen Porro) shows up, making Diane suspicious of her intentions, especially after unsettling words from the farmer (Joseph Parra) across the lake.

What birds could do to any of them isn't as scary as what they might do to themselves.

"It's the stakes that matter, what happens when people get pushed into a corner so far," Olson said.

"In this story, the question is: 'Are we capable of murder?' The answer is yes. Those are the kinds of stories that work best in our theater, which is in a corner, so I love finding those stories about people really stuck and having to fight their way out."

As dissimilar as the original story, Hitchcock's movie and McPherson's play are, they're linked by the paranoia created by being invaded. For du Maurier it was the early 1950s, as England reeled from World War II bombing raids and the Red Scare. Hitchcock's version suggested these bird attacks were punishment for the societal rise of aggressive women, like the one Hedren played.

McPherson's "boogeyman" is human nature itself, how moral lines shift as situations become increasingly dire.

"(These characters) are all exceedingly moral," Fay said. "I don't think that excludes anything they do. That's the problem with someone who does something heinously wrong; they think they're doing the right thing."

In that respect, The Birds has less in common with Hitchcock's movie than with George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead, with monstrous behavior occurring both outside and inside the house. There can be compelling drama between bejeezus-scaring moments.

"After taking these people apart, strand by strand and moment by moment, all of their motivations are pretty logical," Olson said. "There are certain question marks in the air, but they're there in the juicy sense … that great gray area."

Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.

 
Comments
Trumpeter is the highlight of a concert featuring ‘West Side Story’ themes

Trumpeter is the highlight of a concert featuring ‘West Side Story’ themes

TAMPA — Leonard Bernstein would have turned 100 this year. The Florida Orchestra performed two of his works Friday, the second of which paired the dances from West Side Story with the overture to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet.The orches...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Five things that make Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Volta’ different and fun

Five things that make Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Volta’ different and fun

TAMPA — Cirque du Soleil is back in town with a new show.The Montreal-based company always puts on an extravaganza, splashing around color with the abandon of a toddler playing with paint buckets and a storyline several layers deep, the artistic skel...
Published: 02/16/18
On stage this weekend: Trumpeter Haken Hardenberger, Complexions Contemporary Ballet

On stage this weekend: Trumpeter Haken Hardenberger, Complexions Contemporary Ballet

FLORIDA ORCHESTRA: ROMEO AND JULIET The Florida Orchestra has lined up a romantic evening. This weekend’s concert, Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story, pays tribute to Tchaikovsky and Leonard Bernstein. Bernstein’s prelude, Fugues and R...
Published: 02/14/18
‘Brownsville Song’ at Stageworks tells important story but falls short on believability

‘Brownsville Song’ at Stageworks tells important story but falls short on believability

TAMPA — In some ways, the latest offering at Stageworks Theatre comes loaded with promise.A young man with a lot of motivation, personality and wisdom dies in a random and violent way. In telling his story, we also get a glimpse of life in a Brooklyn...
Published: 02/12/18
Laura Benanti talks about her Melania impression, growing up ‘the odd person out’ and more

Laura Benanti talks about her Melania impression, growing up ‘the odd person out’ and more

Tony winner Laura Benanti (for best actress in a musical), who brings her cabaret act to the Straz Center this week, was a self-described ugly duckling. Growing up in New Jersey, she never tired of Sondheim soundtracks and struggled with a secret shy...
Published: 02/09/18
Even Jimmy Buffett does not live the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle anymore

Even Jimmy Buffett does not live the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle anymore

Jimmy Buffett awoke one morning last year in one of his many homes — he can’t remember which one, there are a lot of them — and a panic gripped him in his throat. His new Broadway musical, Escape to Margaritaville, was coming along nicely, but someth...
Published: 02/08/18
Updated: 02/09/18
Florida Orchestra mixes it up, collaborates with community in 2018-19 season

Florida Orchestra mixes it up, collaborates with community in 2018-19 season

ST. PETERSBURGThemes are useful sometimes. Right now, the Florida Orchestra is still enjoying the heart of its 50th anniversary season, which has been big and loud and celebratory.At other times, maybe it’s best to just put a fine program together an...
Published: 02/08/18
Andrea Bocelli, ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and Cirque du Soleil are all in town for Valentine’s Day

Andrea Bocelli, ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and Cirque du Soleil are all in town for Valentine’s Day

VALENTINE’S DAY: ANDREA BOCELLISuperstar Andrea Bocelli and Broadway legend Kristin Chenoweth team up again, the conclusion of a three-city tour. This time it’s a crossover trio with soprano Nadine Sierra, a 2009 winner of the Metropolitan Opera Nati...
Published: 02/07/18
Updated: 02/09/18
The weekend is cool, but how about a Valentine's Day Wednesdate?

The weekend is cool, but how about a Valentine's Day Wednesdate?

Happy February, lovers. Valentine’s Day a week away. Have you made plans? Possibly not, since the holiday falls on an inconvenient Wednesday this year (especially inconvenient for those who observe Ash Wednesday, a day of denying yourself exce...
Published: 02/07/18
Cirque du Soleil raises big top with ‘Volta’, could open doors for neighbors

Cirque du Soleil raises big top with ‘Volta’, could open doors for neighbors

TAMPAIt took 60 people to raise the white tent last week in the parking lot of the Tampa Greyhound Track, the "big top" for Cirque du Soleil’s Volta.With Volta, now open and running through March 18, Cirque brings its first tented show to the Tampa B...
Published: 02/06/18
Updated: 02/14/18