Open: 07/10/09- Close: 07/26/09
Reviewed for TheaterOnline.com By: Ashley Griffin
Marcus Woollen ©2023 On the Bright Side, Syl (Christina Shipp) and Louisy (Cotton Wright) live happily together in the safety of their treehouse.
There are some evenings at the theater that just make being a critic worthwhile. After wading through many not so great nights, a show will come along like a breath of fresh air and make you feel not like a critic, but like an audience member having a magical evening at the theater. This is why we do what we do.
Marcus Woollen ©2023 Once safe in their tree house, Syl (Christina Shipp) protects Louisy (Cotton Wright) from an onslaught of creatures in Bird House
Is Bird House a perfect show? No. What makes it extraordinary is that I couldn’t care less. Bird House overcomes tremendous challenges, inherent in the very nature of what it’s trying to accomplish, and somehow finds the formula to do what so many shows attempt, and come up short on.
Written by Kate Marks, and directed by Heidi Handelsman, Bird House tells the story of two beings (are they children? Birds? Siblings? Human?), the bright and innocent Louisy, and the sweet, adventurous Syl who live happily together in their tree house, until Syl ventures off to be a hero in the far away war torn Lop Side. Alone for the first time, Louisy falls victim to the whims of tiny creatures at her doorstep. When the two sides collide, impossibilities become real, and both realize the lines between right and wrong are not as clear as they thought.
What makes Bird House so breathtaking is that it manages to create a believable world ruled by dream logic. In our best dreams, the feelings, and emotions stay with us long after we wake. But if we try to explain what exactly happened in our dream, to describe the plot, the characters that appeared, relay the words that were said however real and important they seem to us, their logic becomes nonsensical, and vanishes when we try to describe it. To create such an experience is one of the most difficult tasks imaginable (just look at all the failed attempts to bring Alice in Wonderland to life in as striking detail as it exists in book form,) yet Bird House manages it.
That it does so is truly a testament to the communal effort of all those involved. And I do mean all. Remove one element, and the whole thing would crumble. The beautiful set by Sara C. Walsh is perfect from the moment you enter the theater. Its most striking element is the tree house itself, which looks straight out of an episode of Sesame Street or Johnny and the Sprites. It not only fulfills its function, it at once makes us feel at home, and comforted. Even the tree that holds it in place is structured so as to make the theater’s lighting plot look like the tree’s branches. When the dark Lop Side world encroaches in – well, it does what every creepy fairy tale wood was meant to do – create an encroaching danger, loneliness, and sadness on what was once so safe and comforting. And just as Jim Henson created both the world of Sesame Street and Labyrinth, so these two worlds, though starkly different, are beautifully unified.
Marcus Woollen ©2023 A bird invasion? Syl (Christina Shipp) and Louisy (Cotton Wright) in Bird House
The costumes (including hair design) created by Jessica Pabst are extraordinary. They flowed so seamlessly that I almost don’t know what to say. It’s difficult to analyze them as they were so much an organic part of the world – as was the lighting design, Video/Projection Design, and the beautiful puppets (created by Lighting Designer Rebecca M. K. Makus, Video/Projection Designer Alex Koch (who also designed the sets for the beautiful Irena’s Vow,) and Puppet Designer Andy Toad). The music by Quentin Chiappetta was haunting and lovely.
All four principle actresses were extraordinary. I had the pleasure of seeing, and reviewing the two leads, Cotton Wright (Louisy), and Christina Shipp (Syl) in Much Ado About Nothing, and Belles respectively. Both are wonderful actresses who, as lovely as they were in the previous productions in which I’ve seen them, have only grown, and I was thankful to see them be able to really let loose in roles that truly offered them the chance to go wild in the best possible way. Their honesty, and depth were the heart, and engine of the play and they never let it run down for a minute. Much as in a dream it’s possible to find yourself experiencing events as two people simultaneously, so in Bird House you identify with both Syl and Louisy.
The other two women, and I hesitate to call them supporting, for they had just as important, and almost as large of roles as Ms. Wright and Ms. Shipp were revelations. Special props must go to Kylie Liya Goldstein who played the nine-year-old Myra with the depth of a forty-year-old actress. It’s no surprise that she has serious Broadway credits to her name. Wendy Scharfman likewise played Rita with the joy one would expect from a young child and managed to layer both true heartache, and wise omnipotence into a character whose ultimate role we’re not quite sure of until the end. Ora Fruchter and Anthony Wills Jr. were fantastic as the puppeteers. Special props must go to Mr. Wills who not only handled a set malfunction with such cunning that it should be left in the show as is, but garnered show stopping applause for his puppet Ant’s death.Director Heidi Handelsman did a seamless job of envisioning the impossible (as good as the script is, one feels that the beauty of the show would be lost if simply reading it on the page), and Writer Kate Marks has accomplished what other writers only dream about. I certainly look forward to seeing their work in the future, as well as that of the KNF Theater Company.
Despite some minor elements (two projected characters are often confusing, and it is difficult to understand what they’re saying) Bird House is a magical play. The guest who I brought with me to the theater (who’s ticket was comped) declared that this is a play she would gladly pay to see, and wants to come back with some of her other friends.
I wouldn’t mind seeing it again myself.
Theatre 3 : 311 West 43rd Street (3rd Floor)