For The Birds
nytheatre.com review by Matthew Trumbull
August 24, 2010
For The Birds is an across-the-pond collaboration between writers Jen Browne from the U.S. and Siobhan Donnellan from Ireland, both of whom act in the play as well. Our narrator is Frank (Logan James Hall), a sickly, sensitive young man with a heart flutter, and he gently renders the tale of his origin in an hour-long production that feels inert.
Frank only addresses us in the play, and he is fond of a metaphor borne of origami, the paper-folding art he took up to wile away the many indoor hours of a defective-heart youth. A folded paper can unfold back into shape, but the remainder creases are forever. In other words, the people and events that shape us will forever leave their marks; he finds a beauty in that, and wants to show us how he got his creases. Crease show-and-tell is one thing; a play is another. For The Birds juxtaposes two couples: Frank's birth parents in Ireland and his adoptive parents in America. His birth parents couldn't keep him because the father, Haulie (John O'Dowd), was a blind, straitjacketed mental patient and his mother, Ita (Siobhan Donnellan), was Haulie's nurse, a kind-hearted woman whose compassion exceeded propriety when it resulted in a birth. Failing to compellingly parallel this story are the quite mundane couple troubles of young suburbanites Helen and Roy (Jen Browne and Arash Mohktar). They can't get pregnant, and the stress is killing their sex life and causing snippy exchanges in the kitchen.
Characters follow Frank's lead and address us alone in between scenes. These monologues lurch the already pensive narrative to a halt, and reveal very little. Nothing the characters in the couples say to us feels like anything they couldn't have said to the other person in the scene they just left. Why Ita can't stop herself from falling for Haulie, a mentally unstable blind man in her professional care, is not clear, nor is the bond holding together Helen and Roy. Helen tells us she is happy because she landed a keeper like Roy, and it seems as though she believes it. It made me wonder, what happens to all that happiness when he brusquely rebuffs her advances? She never tells us, and joins the rest of the characters as people I don't feel I ever got to really know, despite an hour of their stories and monologues. Even Frank, the narrator, remains an enigma. Do beauty and musings on origami truly form the bulk of what he takes away from a life containing abandonment, cardiovascular illness, mental instability on his biological father's side, and desperation on the side of his adoptive parents? Metaphor or no metaphor, his serenity about it all is difficult to relate to.
Actors John O'Dowd and Siobhan Donnellan, both Ireland natives, give the most compelling performances as Haulie and his nurse Ita. They lend their relationship a sense of humor that the American marriage lacks, despite its considerable advantages in the arenas of material comfort and allowability. Unfortunately, it is not enough to make this a particularly moving play.