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Bird in the Hand

nytheatre.com review by Pamela Butler
August 30, 2012

Birds are not the subject of this unusual and leisurely dramatic work, written and directed by Jorge Ignacio Cortinas, and presented by Fulcrum Theater, which has as its mission statement that it “supports and launches the work of New York based playwrights-of-color .” The subject is a young man named Felix,  the son of a Cuban immigrant, who is born in Florida.   We are treated to his clever, lyric journey from boyhood to full fledged adult.

It’s difficult to categorize this kind of theater experience.  The pacing is completely relaxed as Felix  addresses the audience telling us we’re going to see – “how I got from there to here” and then he steps into the scenes to show us just what he’s talking about. His father came to Florida from Cuba and decided to go into business as the owner of a  tropical bird theme park with flamingoes in the starring role. Felix does what all kids do, he goes to school and helps around the house, or around dad’s business.  Summer jobs are not a problem.  He does what I regularly volunteer to do as a docent at the Bronx Zoo; he gives tours and talks about tropical birds. On the subject of flamingoes, he tells us flamingoes are not native to Florida, and he is right.  What we might  consider a Florida flamingo, is called an American Flamingo, but it breeds in  South America, Cuba and the Galapagos Islands. There are flocks of them here  in captivity, often at race tracks or public gardens. Felix’s father has imported his own little flock, for the tourists.   The first flock flies away, back to Cuba.  The second flock gets its wings clipped and gradually adjusts. Representing the Flamingoes are Robert Grimm,  Theo Koppel and Alicia Ohs, in various striped attire, the costume work of  Mark Nagle.  They vamp flamingo action in some delightful dance routines created by Katie Workum.

I have to say, flamingoes in real life are fun to watch.  They are aggressive, talkative and gregarious.  Little tiffs are always breaking out in the social order which inspire lots of head bobbing and feather puffing along with escalated honking.  Sometimes there will be a short chase scene around the local pool.  The dancers here have captured their spirit.  In particular, in a scene where  the well meaning kids decide to return a ‘sick’ flamingo to Cuba, the bird in their clutches does it’s best to wriggle free in a very funny and endearing  wrestling match.  This must be the creative work of Tim Butterfield,  noted in the credits as the fight choreographer.  But Cuba is no longer home to this bird, and on release, where does he fly?  Back to the theme park. Home is where the heart is –  family and flock.

Felix has a best friend, Gabriel, with whom he shares everything,  until they get to the age of sexual awakening. Hormones will have their way and in this case they cause things to get dicey.  The friendship is strained when Felix discovers he’s gay and Gabriel hooks up with a local girl, Vanessa.  Vanessa comes with a sister,  Susan, whose role here is as confidant, foil and friend to all. Crystal Finn  embodies all the charming coquettishness of the cute young teenager Vanessa,  and she has the right comic attitude for the wry dialog. Susannah Flood creates a multi faceted sister, Susan, insuring that several possibly awkward connections and segues seem fluid and natural. Debargo Sanyal, as Felix, sets the relaxed tone and pacing for the narrative and Alejandro Rodriguez as Gabriel is compelling in his complicated relationship with Felix.  There are moments of true emotional connection between them as they go through the inevitable  pains of growing up.

There are many strange things about this production; its loose style, staging, time warping  and the device of stepping out of the action to talk to the audience.  It’s not a play, but it works as a theatrical piece through  the craft and creativity of the ensemble.  Lighting by Kate Ashton, sound design by Matt Stone and set and prop design by Jiyoun Chang all work together for harmonious and comedic effect. Like the flamingos, these transplants have made their new home here and have joined our amazingly diverse American landscape. A very entertaining evening that, for setting a tropical pace, did not flag in it’s hour-forty-five length.