I think we can agree that the conservation movement has pretty much mooted the old saw about a bird in the hand. “Leave ’em in the bushes!” we cry on behalf of animal rights. Indeed, Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas’s one-edit-from-done Bird in the Hand could itself use more time in the wild, where it might lose the dullness that comes from conceptual captivity. Cut the too-tight ties to metaphor (a boy hampered by his identity tells us about pinioning), and the piece could take wing.
Let me hasten to say, as a physical production, Bird is fully fledged. Cortiñas oversees a beautifully produced event, with shivering, small dances by Katie Workum (three dancers become a flock of flamingos) in a cavernous faux-concrete tank designed by Jiyoun Chang. Cortiñas’s protagonist, Felix—a Cuban-American man looking back at working in his father’s Florida avian preserve—talks wistfully of freedom; the set perfectly evokes the dank back hallways of the saddest kind of zoo.
Cortiñas is interested in constraints of all kinds: Teenage Felix (a hammy Debargo Sanyal) is in love with his straight best friend, Gabriel (Alejandro Rodriguez), who dates clever, anorexic Susan (Susannah Flood). Susan’s sister Vanessa (Crystal Finn, superb) wanders at the edges, a damp, depressed airport security guard. Strangely, scenes without our protagonist work the best—Vanessa in particular excites Cortiñas’s best writing, weird and human all at once. To keep Felix at the center of things, Cortiñas must force center-stage monologues on him (“this is how I became a man” stuff), which is the only awkward language in the piece. That clunkiness may be evidence—like the fading plumage of an ailing flamingo—that it’s time to let Felix go.—Helen Shaw