The Power of Birds
nytheatre.com review by Paul Hufker
February 19, 2010
Let us never take for granted the power of theatricality. Beyond its moments of suspension and wonder are those elements that lie more deeply at the crux of not only the "issues," but of ourselves. Those moments are why we see theatre. They are the nuts and bolts used in conjunction with the last great social teaching tool. And unfortunately, they are often either misused or overlooked. The Power of Birds, written by Robin Rice Lichtig, however, is sheer theatricality, in its loveliest and nearly highest form—nuts and bolts purposefully veiled ever-so-thinly so that we may look past them at times, but always be aware that they are there.
The set is sectioned into three areas with sparse, bare elements (mostly of natural makeup—wood, etc.) and the actors, while they leave the action, never retreat to a dressing room. Instead, they remain seated in various chairs along the darker back areas, still visible, and often cleverly adding sound to the play. A sense of community is present almost immediately, and according to the mission statement of 3Graces Theater Co., the producers of the show, that's exactly what they're going for. Large lights stand uncovered and pointedly visible at the extremes of each side of the stage, casting stark, bold beams and shadows here and there. Designer Joshua Scherr deserves considerable credit; the space is nearly overwhelming in its possibilities, and his lighting is just right. Brooke Cohen's costumes and Tijana Bjelajac's set design ought to get credit here, too. All elements come together with specificity and purpose, but were designed to let the audience know they are seeing something they should suspend themselves to believe is real, while knowing full well they are watching a story being told. This is theatre.
Which brings us to the story. A nature-loving father (Jay Porter) leaves his family to go off into the wild and explore the migration patterns of birds. His daughter (Emma Galvin) misses him violently, while his now estranged wife (Annie McGovern) and son (Noah Galvin) continue to carry on, in a seemingly unfazed manner. Margot Avery plays the earthy grandmother, who later climbs to the crux of the action.
The play is sheer allegory, its style again allowing us to embrace the magical, the story-telling side of theatre, while giving us quite nearly three-dimensional people onto whom we can latch emotionally, about whom we can care. The fine balance here is finely struck.
Because this is a play written for the stage, performed in a large open space which cleverly maximizes the theatrical, employing actors who transcend archetype, the elaborate metaphors that Lichtig gives us (forgive me) have wings. I won't give away the play's most powerful moment, but it is truly lovely, and parallels the central metaphor with consistency and heart. Though, at its core, The Power of Birds is about priorities, choices, fight versus flight, togetherness, and survival—all notions with which we are each familiar—and so everything is driven home that much more effectively. To fully comprehend each meaning of each metaphor might require you to see it again. Do it. It's very good work.
My only qualm with the piece is that it is written in the ever-increasingly popular vignette-style, which for me can mark a break in theme, in action, and though the style serves this piece effectively, the underlying inability of audiences to pay attention to conversations that last longer than five or six minutes is not as troubling as the playwright's desire to cater to it. But Lichtig is a pro, and no depth of meaning is compromised. Emma and Noah Galvin give energetic, earnest, touching performances. Annie McGovern has found a nice arc for her character, and settles into herself, and Jay Potter and Margot Avery are effective. Director Elizabeth Bunnell knows exactly what she's doing. It's all precisely what a play ought to be; it dips and pivots the ethereal, while planting itself firmly in story and character, somewhere just right, halfway between the sky and the ground.
Don't miss the power of theatre. Go see The Power of Birds.