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Review: LU’s ‘Birds’ explores world of avian eeriness

Emily Buseing, left, Chris Shroff and Caitlin Grammer in a scene from
“The Birds,” playing at the Lamar University Studio Theatre through Feb. 10.

The Lamar University department of theatre and dance’s latest offering is Conor McPherson’s 2009 stage adaptation of “The Birds,” inspired by the short story from Daphne Du Maurier. The story follows three survivors in a world in which birds have turned against humankind.

Under the direction of Joel Grothe, and with commendable performances from Lamar students Chris Shroff, Caitlin Grammer, Emily Buesing and Kalan Bonnette, the play is effectively eerie, while not always hitting its mark.

The play begins to the sterile, descending piano notes of Radiohead’s “Everything in its Right Place,” as the lights come up onto a slanted stage enclosed by two off-kilter walls. The set design brings to mind the out-of-joint geometry of German expressionism. We see, amongst cans of food and a lone table, a woman listening close to a sputtering radio as a man in the corner is trapped in a deep sleep. A voiceover from the woman tells us the two are strangers who met on the road before taking refuge in the house. The woman’s name is Diane (Grammer), the man Nat (Shroff). Diane twists away at her crank-powered radio, which lets out an indecipherable broadcast of two officials discussing the extent of the bird phenomena, which townships are reachable and where to go for help. We get the sense there is not much civilization left and we are told this is the last broadcast the two will hear. Just like that, the characters and audience are unmoored from the world.

Nat wakes and the pair begin to learn about each other. While Diane is stilted, Shroff brings a manic energy to the slightly unhinged Nat, who never seems to be able to sit still. We learn Diane was an author in the world before birds, while Nat, a wannabe family man, had been sent to a mental hospital by his ex-girlfriend. They scrounge for food, while Nat becomes suspicious that a man with a shotgun from the farmhouse across the lake is stealing from them while they are away. A quite rhythm, an understanding, is created between the two until the dynamic changes with the addition of a new character — Julia (Buesing).

Birds Program We learn about her little by little, and her once innocuous presence in the home begins to drive a wedge between Diane and Nat. Buesing’s performance provides momentum for a play that seems to drag its feet at times, the questions raised by her character are a source of forward propulsion. Buesing’s presence on stage also brings out the best in Grammar and Shroff’s individual performances. When the mysterious neighbor (Bonnette) reveals himself, the three survivors find it harder to keep the peace as they are trapped inside the claustrophobic room.

We never see the titular, winged antagonists. Instead, we are treated to a glimpse of their fury when we hear them beating against the walls of the house during a “high tide” (when the birds become aggressive). This is accomplished through an impressive trick by the production crew, made all the more effective by the intimacy of the Studio Theatre. The design and sound contribute to a convincing and nightmarish setting.

Theatergoers looking for a scare in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock’s film adaptation will be disappointed. Instead, expect an unnerving sense of existential dread that, in the play’s best moments, settles into your stomach and refuses to let go. Sometimes the action drags and the audience will feel like they, too, are trapped in the house. Luckily, these moments are easily forgiven as the cast often comes together and brings to life some truly memorial scenes.

“The Birds” is a solid production on all fronts, and one that will stay in your head long after you leave the theater.

The play continues Feb. 8 and 9 at 7:30 p.m., and Feb. 10 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $7 for LU and LIT students, $10 for seniors, and $15 general admission.

For tickets, call 409-880-8037.

Review by Daniel Pemberton, UP contributor

Category: Features