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The Birds
Photograph: Carol Rosegg

Theater review: Conor McPherson's The Birds does not take wing at 59E59

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I’m prepared to believe that Conor McPherson’s The Birds—based on the same Daphne du Maurier novella that inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s movie—is his worst play. Commissioned by Minneapolis’s Guthrie Theatre, this stage adaptation opened in 2012 to mixed-to-negative reviews. And local companies that have produced McPherson, like the Atlantic or Irish Rep, have not touched it. Okay, even a brilliant playwright can have an off day, but this NYC premiere is so shabbily conceived and executed, it’s hard to know where to place the blame.

You know the premise: Feathered critters have turned homicidal and will peck you to death if you’re caught outside. Holed up in a New England farmhouse, book author Diane (Antoinette LaVecchia) and half-mad Nat (Tony Naumovsky) try to survive and form a plan of escape. Enter the injured young Julia (Mia Hutchinson-Shaw), whose scheming and secrecy sows doubt and division. Will the humans turn on each other and do the birds’ work for them?

In previous plays (The Seafarer, The Night Alive), McPherson has shown himself a master of psychological revelation and suspense, with a keen sense of menace and mercy. The eco-horror concept of The Birds should have given him plenty of material to spin a gut-wrenching, claustrophobic thriller. But this humorless, generic script feels like a first draft, halfway to a screenplay, not delving enough into the characters’ twisted emotions. He gives Diane a few pretentious direct-address speeches that only distract from the tension. But any weaknesses in the text are severely exacerbated by Stefan Dzeparoski’s clunky, low-budget, barely designed production. The actors struggle valiantly, but they’re stranded in 59E59’s cramped Theater C, with lousy sight lines and cheesy video projection. Fly, fly away, my friends.

59E59 (Off-Off Broadway). By Conor McPherson. Directed by Stefan Dzeparoski. With Antoinette LaVecchia, Tony Naumovsky, Mia Hutchinson-Shaw. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission. Through Oct 1. Click here for full venue and ticket information.

Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote  

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