Run for Shelter

The Birds provides intensity and suspense in the setting of the everyday.

by Quinton Skinner I Director of Communications, Guthrie Theater

A durable and sturdy definition of the terrifying is the twisting of the mundane and the familiar into something unexpectedly strange-this is why, for instance, a beautiful child with glowing yellow eyes raises considerably more goosebumps than a giant lizard terrorizing a city. In The Birds, playwright Conor McPherson portrays a scene of impromptu domesticity riven with undercurrents of desperation, rivalry and tension. It's a household that none of us would prefer to join.

In the opening scene Nat (J.C. Cutler) awakens from a feverish dream, and soon enough it's a sensation with which we can sympathize. With him is Diane (Angela Timberman); the two are alone in a deserted, boarded-up house near the sea, where they took improvised refuge after being attacked by flocks of birds. A quick scan of the radio dial reveals that they aren't alone in their predicament: humanity is under total assault by winged beasts large and small, and society as we know it has broken down completely.

The strangeness of the situation (inspired by a Daphne du Maurier short story, which was the impetus for the chilling Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name) soon falls away to the demands of survival. There are brief interregnums when the birds' attacks abate, but supplies are low and foraging for food in the area is yielding diminishing returns. The psychological tone turns fractious with the arrival of the young Julia (Summer Hagen), and more harrowing still with another individual who has been watching and waiting to take action.

Within the walls of this house we see humanity broken down to its raw essentials: the will to live, along with the competing agendas that emerge in times of desperation. McPherson writes about flawed characters, but he does so with a sort of wounded compassion, depicting their struggle to find meaning in duress as a form of heroism, or at least a battle to find strength in circumstances not of their own creation.

Thrust together in a domestic setting that retains only the faintest afterglow of times of comfort and stability, Nat, Diane and Julia-strangers before the action in the play-comprise a community where the boundaries of the everyday begin to erode and blur. Every time we hear the birds outside the house, their clamoring as they try to get in, our pulses quicken in rhythm with the characters'. With a sense of suspense that encompasses the primeval as well as the prosaic, The Birds promises an experience that lingers like the most provocative of dreams.

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