The Birds

The Birds, by Bygone Theatre currently playing at Hart House Theatre is loosely based on the du Maurier short story and the subsequent Hitchcock film.  The idea, the script and the direction are all the work of Emily Dix.  The concept, building on the uncertainties of the Trump era and COVID is to explore “how do you explain to someone outside of a crisis the things you did to survive it? How do you justify to the world, and eventually, even yourself, what “crazy” things you did, completely necessary and justified at the time, when afterwards much of the world seems determined to pretend that crisis never existed?” (Director’s Notes).  I’m not sure it really does that.

birds

The setting is shifted to 1950s “cottage country” a couple of hours from New York City.  It’s the childhood summer home of David and Daphne Harper (now Daniels).  David is visiting after a spell in a psychiatric hospital for a never fully explained incident at college.  Daphne is waiting for her husband to arrive from the city (he never does).  There’s a handyman who may or may not be entirely sane who is convinced that the birds are conspiring to ill everybody.  Daphne’s ex and his sappy girlfriend show up.  It’s clear that he and Daphne are far from having got over each other.  There’s a storm, the power goes out.  People die in ways which are ambivalent.  There’s an extremely violent ending.  Are we dealing with malevolent avians, hereditary mental illness, common or garden jealousy or something entirely different?  There are a lot of blanks for the audience to fill in.  That, at least, is consistent with the director’s intention.

The problem, for me, is what we see is a series of dysfunctional family or near family relationships playing out in predictable ways apart from the violence seen or hinted at.  It’s not so different in some ways from Chekhov or Tennessee Williams in that respect.  And as with those authors, it’s rather hard to care about any of the characters so their “dilemmas” aren’t as interesting as one might wish.  What might have changed that for me?  Some irony or black humour perhaps?

That said, it’s well done.  The staging is crisp and effective.  Suspense is well maintained.  There’s a brilliant performance from Anna Douglas as Daphne Daniels.  She has the 1950s young upper middle class housewife perfectly.  The speech patterns and the body language are exquisite.  She’s well supported by Alex Clay as the slightly bewildering David (who is repressing at least one traumatic memory), Oliver Georgiou as the very creepy Mitch Brenner; Daphne’s ex (maybe?), Kiera Publicover as the sappy Annie who is being manipulated by Mitch and Chad Allen as the obsessed handyman.

There’s a lot that’s well crafted here but ultimately, perhaps, it leaves too much to the audience.  Ambiguity is fine but this is more multiple choice than binary and is perhaps A Bridge Too Far (as du Maurier’s husband once said).

The Birds runs at Hart House Theatre until December 10th.

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