Quotidian Theatre Company’s D.C. area premiere of The Birds by Conor McPherson runs through August 11. Actor Ted Schneider, no stranger to Quotidian or McPherson, shares some thoughts on the playwright’s work:
Conor McPherson’s The Birds is currently running at Quotidian Theatre Company. Yes, that The Birds, adapted from the same source, Daphne du Maurier’s novelette of the same name that Hitchcock used for his 1963 film. Not having read the du Maurier story, I can only attest to the fact that both the movie and the play deal with the imaginary catastrophe that all or most of the worlds’s bird population turns against the world’s human population, thereby ending “civilization as we know it”. Profound existential questions are posed: What is morality, and from where does it arise? If there is no outward authority to enforce ethical behavior, will people behave ethically out of free will? Will Tippi Hedren survive until the final credits roll?
The Birds is the 9th Quotidian production in which I have performed, and my 4th Conor McPherson play. McPherson plays, like all other plays written for conventional theatre, present the same problems for actors – memorizing lines, creating character, blocking (movement), being heard and understood by fellow actors as well as the audience, and, always a challenge for certain actors, such as myself, working correctly with props and set pieces, or furniture. Now, in The Birds, Tierney, the character I play, appears in only one brief (but memorable!) scene. Yet I am confronted by all the aforementioned actors’ challenges that the other cast members face, despite the fact that I have fewer lines and less time on stage. My biggest hurdles are line memorization and working with props and set, as anyone who has worked with me can attest.
There are three elements used frequently by McPherson that, while used by other playwrights on occasion, he has made somehow uniquely his own: heavy drinking by his characters, storytelling, and his use of the supernatural. In The Weir, the whiskey and Guinness consuming denizens of a pub swap increasingly creepy and personal ghost stories to impress a lovely newcomer from Dublin, until she trumps all of them with the most disturbing tale of all. In The Seafarer, on Christmas Eve, several drunks, one who is temporarily sober, play poker with a dapper stranger who may, or may not, be the Devil, who has come to play cards for the soul of the only sober player. And in Shining City, a guilt-ridden widower tells his psychiatrist why he is terrified to return to his own home because he has twice encountered the ghost of his wife, for whose death he feels responsible. In The Birds, while no supernatural events occur and no ghost stories are told, nature — in the form of birds — turns against humanity in what can be described as hyper-natural rather than super natural. There are musings on the nature of God by the protagonist Diane, and discussions of the beauty and wisdom of Ecclesiastes by Julia. The male characters seem more interested in surviving, less interested in meaning.
While drinking plays a role in all four plays, in The Weir and The Seafarer it is constant and pervasive, and the relative drunkenness and sobriety of the characters significant elements. In fact, the action of The Weir takes place in a pub, and one of the characters is the owner/bartender. Drinking, while present in Shining City and The Birds, is less central to the lives of the characters or the action of the plays. I will leave it to the scholars and drinkers among the myriad McPherson fans to examine the function of alcohol in his work.
Storytelling, often autobiographical, is a staple in all the McPherson plays in which I have appeared. The believability of the stories by the other characters is usually key. In The Weir, the early stories have had lasting and, well, haunting effects on the tellers. In Shining City, the long stories, some supernatural, some not, related by John are told to his psychotherapist and are ultimately healing for John; but have another, not so positive but very surprising, effect on his shrink. In The Birds, neither the audience nor the other characters can never be sure who is deliberately, or perhaps unintentionally, lying and who is being truthful. But that’s the point.
Quotidian Theatre Company presents
The Birds by Conor McPherson
July 12 – August 11, 2013
Featuring Jenny Donovan, Stephanie Mumford, Ted Schneider, and Matthew Vaky.
Directed by Jack Sbarbori.
Show times are 8pm Fridays and Saturdays, and 2pm Sundays, with one additional 2pm performance on Saturday, August 10.
Tickets are $30, or $25 for seniors and students, and can be purchased by cash or check at the door, online at Brown Paper Tickets (click here), or by phone at 1-800-838-3006 ext 1 (ask for Quotidian Theatre Company). $15 per ticket for groups of 10 or more (contact email@example.com for reservations).
Subscribers, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 301-816-1023 for reservations.
All performances are held at The Writer’s Center: 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD.
The venue is a short walk from the Bethesda Metro Station. There is free parking on Saturdays and Sundays.