Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bird House

Bird House is as absolutely adorable as it is completely confusing. Kate Marks has written a dream of a world so consistent in tone that even though axes fly through the wind and cuckoo birds burst out of people's mouths, she sustains our interest. Likewise, Heidi Handelsman has conjured this fantasy so fully that even though we see the puppeteers through the life-size windows of this hand-crafted bird house (Sara C. Walsh's set), we remain raptly dreaming. It's impossible to dismiss Bird House, and yet equally hard to accept it for what it is (Alex Koch's pastel backdrops drop a few impressionistic, though hard to make out, clues).

Syl (Christina Shipp), a confident sure-shot, and Louisy (the bubbly Cotton Wright), an immature adult, live a happy, simple life of escapism atop a tree house on the Bright Side of their world. At night, they sleep head to toe in their casual comfort, and by day, they speak carefreelessly, defining words like "parasite" with a wordsmith's charm: "Someone who comes to a potluck without a pot." However, troubles eventually find them: giant ants march militarily across the floor, and blue birds slam against glass windows like it's the end of days--even the cuckoo-clock birds, Kook and Ooo (puppeteers Anthony Wills Jr. and Ora Fruchter), are said to get into domestic violence behind their quaint little doors.

Syl can't explain why she needs to abandon this life (or won't, on Marks's end), so one day she just digs through to the Lop Side, where she encounters Louisy's opposite, Myra (Kylie Liya Goldstein). Make no mistake, Myra's just as endearing, but she's a mature child, and she slyly uses Syl's unfamiliarity with this world of War-Wolves to cling to her side. Meanwhile, Syl's opposite--Rita (Wendy Scharfman), an easy-going prophet--shows up on the Bright Side, looking for Myra, but settling for Louisy. The problem is that everything's as earnest as it is eager, and though the Lop Side is full of dirt and vicious wind, it comes across (because of the characters) as being just the same.

Despite being a storybook play, one whose odd comedy swiftly grows static, Bird House doesn't have a storybook ending (as the faint, ominous projections imply). Surprise, surprise: the good intentions we bring to war "over there" are not always as heroic or noble as we desire. But this conclusion is never justified, and even in its darkest, oddest moments, the play never manages to grow up, or change. Louisy, having killed an ant, tearfully realizes that "war is not a story," but Bird House all too clearly is.

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