Lightning hasn’t struck twice with the new adaptation of The Birds. Alfred Hitchcock used Daphne du Maurier’s 1952 classic short story as inspiration for a terrifying film. By contrast, Irish playwright Conor McPherson bleeds out all suspense and transforms it into a soporific meditation on the psyches of post-apocalyptic survivors. Long before the seemingly endless play wraps up, you’ll be wishing the damn birds would finish the job already.
Not that you see any of them, mind you. Presented by the appropriately named Birdland Theatre, the bare-bones production is set entirely within the confines of a New England home where three people have taken refuge and where mindlessly crazed avians attack them. This we know through ineffective sound effects and abstract visual projections that deliver less punch than an amusement park funhouse.
McPherson, who’s retained virtually nothing of the original story, is less interested in horror-film tropes than exploring the sort of spiritual anguish he’s depicted to more powerful effect in such works as The Weir and Shining City. Perhaps this 2009 effort had greater impact in its original production at Dublin’s Gate Theatre, directed by the playwright and featuring the estimable Sinead Cusack and Ciaran Hinds. But in the tiny confines of 59E59’s black-box theater it falls completely flat.
The main characters are Diane (Antoinette LaVecchia), a writer who occasionally reads aloud to us from her diary; Nat (Tony Naumovski), with whom she shares the house that they both stumbled upon; and Julia (Mia Hutchinson-Shaw), a sexy younger woman they take in and who eventually creates a rift when she becomes pregnant by Nat.
When he haltingly attempts to explain himself to Diane, she assures him, “Society’s gone, Nat. No one’s keeping score. So you can do what you want.”
The sudden arrival of a neighbor (Naumovski, again) when Diane is alone causes further tension. Wearing a protective suit and toting a shotgun, he warns her that the other two will soon have no use for her. He also shares his stash of painkillers, advising, “If you take them with a drink, they make time pass quicker.”
Alas, there’s no such recourse for the audience, as the play plods from one numbingly dull scene to the next, displaying none of the playwright’s usual gift for evoking tension. As if aware of how little there is to work with, director Stefan Dzeparoski resorts to mild shock tactics, including a thoroughly gratuitous full-frontal male nude scene that mostly has the effect of making you feel bad for the actor. But not, by the time the play is over, as bad as you’ll be feeling for yourself.
Venue: 59E59 Theaters, New York
Cast: Antoinette LaVecchia, Tony Naumovski, Mia Hutchinson-Shaw
Playwright: Conor McPherson
Director: Stefan Dzeparoski
Set designer: Konstantin Roth
Costume designer: Kate R. Mincer
Lighting designer: Kia Rogers
Video designer: David J. Palmer
Sound designer: Ien Denio
Presented by Birdland Theatre