by Lynn on December 5, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at Hart House Theatre, produced by Bygone Theatre. Plays until Dec. 10, 2022.

Written and directed by Emily Dix

Set and lighting by Wes Babcock

Props and costumes by Emily Dix

Cast: Chad Allen

Alex Clay

Anna Douglas

Oliver Georgiou

Kiera Publicover

This is the tenth anniversary of Bygone Theatre Company. Emily Dix, the founder and Artistic Executive Director, has guided the company for all of its 10 years and expanded its mandate to include community outreach. Lasting 10 years for any theatre company is an accomplishment, and while Bygone Theatre is a non-equity theatre company (and my reviewing focuses on Actors’ Equity companies), I thought I would check them out, certainly since they were doing a provocative play such as The Birds.

It should be noted that The Birds is an original play by Emily Dix, although it does borrow details from the Alfred Hitchcock film, who in turn based his film on the Daphne du Maurier short story, but expanded it.

In a tip of the hat to Daphne du Maurier and Alfred Hitchcock, Emily Dix names her heroine Daphne Daniels; one of Dix’s characters is named Mitch Brennan, as in the Alfred Hitchcock film. Dix names another character Annie Hawthorne which is close to the last name of Annie in the Hitchcock film.

The Story. Daphne Daniels has come to the little cottage she inherited from her late mother.  We seem to be in the 1960s if the pillbox hat Daphne wears is any indication. She has arrived with her brother David Harper. Daphne’s husband is expected later after work. David is there because he had a bad experience in college and had to leave. We are given hints that he had a friend he thought he could trust but learned he shouldn’t have trusted him. David seems unsettled, if not unbalanced and fragile from the experience. Daphne hopes to help him calm down. They arrive with suitcases. Daphne has brought in freshly bought groceries she loads into the little icebox. There is no telephone. There is a radio.  When Daphne goes outside to check on something she is attacked by an angry bird and rushes back into the cottage.

She is visited by Annie Hawthorne who is making a cake for her boyfriend but she dropped the only egg she had. She comes to ask Daphne, whom she doesn’t know, if she can borrow an egg. Daphne invites this stranger into the house and sees that there are two eggs left in the icebox and gives one to Annie, who then leaves. Daphne is then visited by a man she doesn’t want to see: Mitch Brenner. He just happens to be in the neighbourhood and he just happens to be a man with whom Daphne was in love until he cheated on her with a chorus girl and she broke it off. Mitch is very sorry and wants to make it up to Daphne. Daphne shows him the door. A short time later, Annie returns with the finished cake and wants to give Daphne some of it as a gesture. She is accompanied by her boyfriend, Mitch Brenner.

In the meantime, Hank, the handyman, comes to warn all assembled of a swarm of birds that are attacking people. A car was driven off the road because a bird crashed into the windshield. There are news reports of this. Matters escalate. Birds crash into the cottage windows. A character falls down the stairs. Daphne frets that her husband hasn’t arrived. David begins acting stranger than usual and Mitch is calm through it all.

The Production. Emily Dix has directed the production and creates a slowly growing sense of danger. There are furtive looks out into the distance by characters who come centre stage, eyebrows knit in concern, foreboding surrounding them. A subtle rumbling sound underscores moments. A nice touch.

The time is the 1960s. Wes Babcock’s set has an ice-box in the kitchen. I marvel that the door does not have any shelving. There is a window on the stage right wall of the kitchen and another window on the stage left side of the living room. If action happens outside and a character is bashed against the window one hears the thud but can’t actually see what happened because of the angle. Perhaps that is the intention. Perhaps the audience is just told by a frantic character that something has happened to a character and the audience is supposed to imagine the worst. Somehow, I think if the windows were in a better position so the audience could see a face in the window clearly, that would raise the fear factor considerably.

 Babcock also created the lighting and at times lights flicker or fade, increasing the sense of doom. Birds bash at the kitchen and living room windows. We hear the sound but don’t actually see it happen.

The cast is very committed. Daphne is played by Anna Douglas with an accommodating lightness. David is played by Alex Clay who obviously has things to hide as he gets edgier and edgier. Mitch is played as a confident schemer by Oliver Georgiou. Annie is played by Keira Publicover as a trusting innocent. As Hank, Chad Allen is a strapping presence who nicely creates the sense of dread as a man who is terrified of the impending attack by the birds. Now if he could only slow down his frantic speech so that we can understand what he is saying, that would convey the sense of terror even better.

The theatre often requires we suspend our disbelief to enter into the sense of the story. But sometimes with this production of The Birds we are asked to suspend credulity. Daphne has just gone shopping but there are only two eggs in the icebox when Annie comes to borrow an egg. Were they from the last time she was there? How old are they? Mitch just happened to be in a relationship with Annie? How long and when did that happen because the coincidence challenges ‘credulity.’ Characters are attacked and perhaps killed by other characters and the shifts of focus in the story-telling and the production are obvious—perhaps a bit more subtlety might be in order.

Emily Dix says in her long free association ‘Director’s Note’ that “The Birds” purposefully leaves some blanks unfilled, and I hope each audience member has a different idea as to what exactly has happened….” I have always known that there are as many opinions about a play, what happened, etc. as there are people in the room watching it. All of the opinions are different. All valid.  A playwright doesn’t have to purposefully leave blanks. That’s unfair to the audience. In some quarters that would be called faulty playwrighting.

Still, helming a theatre company that has produced work for 10 years and is expanding its reach into the community is to be commended.

Bygone Theatre and Hart House Theatre presents:

Plays until: Dec. 10, 2022.

Running time: 2 hours approx. (with an intermission).

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