Sunday, July 22, 2012

Birds of a Feather by Christina Hart

L - R Eddie Kehler, Patrick John Hurley, Kara Pulcino, Michael Piznarski - Photo Gil Ortiz

By Joe Straw

“…it was not the two halves of a perfect whole that confronted each other at the perfect moment; a missing counterpart wandered independently about the earth waiting in crass obtuseness till the late time came.  Out of which maladroit delay sprang anxieties, disappointments, shocks, catastrophes, and passing strange destinies.” – Thomas Hardy – Tess of D’Urbervilles

The Complex Theatre is a nice quiet place on theatre row along Santa Monica Boulevard.  The Ruby stage has comfortable seating and is a nice intimate space. Sitting down to take notes, I was comforted by the tranquil jazzy tunes before show time.  And everything was so serene, so pleasant, so nice, until I heard this guy outside near the ticket booth.  His VOICE was SO LOUD and edgy, nasally, like the scrapping nails along the backboard, or the sound of braking wheels screeching before the crash.

Every “the”, “but”, and “and”, was “THE”, “BUT”, and “AND”.  Patrons were mouthing “Why is he so loud?”  “Woody Allen would have a field day with this guy.” I groused. But he took no notice.  He stayed in the front row YELLING to his partner.  And she seemed oblivious to his voracious vocal prowess. Fortunately when the lights went down, he got quiet.

This guy was just one odd bird.  Birds can be loud.  Your best defense is to throw a cover over the cage or turn out the lights and hope for the best.

Laurel Grove Theatre presents the World Premiere of Birds of a Feather, a serious comedy through August 5, 2012, at the Ruby stage in The Complex.

Birds of a Feather, by Christina Hart and directed by Robert Burgos, is a marvelous show. Wonderful actors play splendid maladroit characters, and with a very nice social commentary.  Get connected and run to see this production!

One of the first things to notice is that Marco De Leon, the Set Designer, has designed a marvelous set resembling a birdcage.  This structural integument, as a whole, shelters the characters.  They are neatly bundled together and perched on their own swings to deal with the problems they must overcome. The two-birdcage settings are the Birdhouse bar, first, and the living room, second.

Walt (Patrick John Hurley) is the owner of this little frequented bar, The Birdhouse.  His adopted son Reggie (Michael Piznarski) sits playing cards while the other patron, Cee Cee (Kara Pulcino), waits impatiently for her “date” to come through the doors.

Cee Cee is a regular at the bar. She has been turning tricks with her “don’t call me john” on Tuesday nights for the last thirteen months.  But this night is different, he is late and she waits for, at least, a telephone call.  About the only thing that Cee Cee can do, to pass the impatient tide, is to play cards with Reggie.  She waits but the call never comes.

There is something mentally wrong with Reggie.  He is autistic and has some processing issues. We see a glimpse of it as he negotiates his way around The Birdhouse.  He asks Cee Cee if she lives in a “group”.

Walt confides to Cee Cee that Reggie might be moved into a group home.

“He needs more independence… Mrs. Redhead want to look at a group home.” - Walt

It’s getting late and Reggie needs to go home. Because there is a bus-strike, Walt reviews the bus routes with Reggie to make sure he gets to his destination.   

‘I want nine packs.” – Reggie

“You get two packs and a coke” – Walt

Walt puts those items into a paper bag, checks his bus pass, and lovingly sends him on his way out the door.

“Parting is such sweet sorrow.” – Reggie quoting Shakespeare

Suddenly there’s a call but it is from Walt’s real estate agent.  Walt lets Cee Cee know that he is thinking of selling the Birdhouse.  He is not getting any younger and wants to do other things. Besides, the Birdhouse is not a thriving commercial entity.

Joey (Eddie Kehler) enters wearing a trench coat and carrying blueprints for a birdhouse.  He walks into the bar, ignores Cee Cee, and tells Walt that he is sorry that he missed Reggie.  Then he saunters over to Cee Cee’s table and sits down. But, Cee Cee wants him to leave.  Joey wants to know why.

“What time is it?” – Cee Cee

“8:25pm.” – Walt

Joey has a perennial stopped up nose and his voice sounds like the squawkings of a very ill parrot.  He disappears behinds the white cloth of his handkerchief trying to hide when circumstances become unbearable.  His social skills are not up to par as he drops the $100.00 bill on the table: something you would not want to do to any female companion.  

“I pay every time.  I’m not taking anyone for granted.” – Joey

Cee Cee doesn’t like being kept waiting by anyone, customer or not, and if he’s supposed to be there at 8:00 pm, he should be there at 8:00 pm.  

“Walt, am I a good customer?” – Joey

“Yes.” – Walt

Joey loses it, threatens to walk out, but turns around and calls her an “old fat whore”.  Realizing he is about to miss out on his Tuesday night he apologizes for losing his cool.  

“Left me sitting here like I don’t matter.” – Cee Cee

“Mattering doesn’t go along with this relationship.” – Joey

Joey doesn’t understand that every time he opens his mouth, he gets himself into more trouble. So, to apologize, he asks Cee Cee out on a real date.  Cee Cee says she’s busy, that she is going to a funeral, (her favorite pastime) but asks Joey if he wants to go with her.  With trepidation Joey accepts.

They meet a few days later. After the funeral, Joey accompanies Cee Cee back to her place. Cee Cee straightens up a little bit while Joey makes himself comfortable on the couch amongst the hundreds of stuff cats.

Cee Cee fills Joey in on the tidbits of her life including sleeping with the preacher who has just spoken the eulogy.  She shares that Walt has a bad heart. Then she says, “If one of us dies the other will go to the funeral and speak”.

But Joey says he can’t do it.  He says he can’t talk and has panic attacks, which is the reason he doesn’t drive. This doesn’t sit too well with Cee Cee.

Nevertheless Cee Cee goes to the kitchen to make coffee and finger foods. In the middle of the dinning room table, there is a picture of Clint Eastwood who she convincingly says is her father. Her mother told her, “for all I know it (your father) could be Clint Eastwood.” And so Cee Cee has accepted Clint Eastwood as her father.

Not to be excluded from tales of emotional anguish, Joey tells Cee Cee that his adopted parents, (that he did not get along with), took him at summer camp and did not bother to return and get him.  This left an emotional scar that is still with Joey and does not heal.   

These are four characters and they all want.  They’ve all come to the crossroads of their lives and they want to make a change no matter the cost and they all realize that the changes will be severe but they have nothing left. It is, in everyone’s life time to move on.

Eddie Kehler - Kara Pulcino - Photo Gil Ortiz

Eddie Kehler as Joey is marvelous and gives a terrific performance throughout this play. Joey is childlike and never able to love others for themselves.  The only way he gets love is to pay for it.  He still holds onto that part of his life of being an architect even though he is working as a grunt for the DMV.  He presents the blueprints in the hopes that someone will make a marvelous birdhouse with his simple blueprint. But even those dreams are shot down after the construction is a dismal display of a dream gone sour.  Kehler is fantastic and it is not hard to feel very compassionate for the life of this character.

Kara Pulcino gives a wonderful performance as Cee Cee.  As the character, and in her line of work, she is getting up in age and weight and is ready to make the change.  But the change she wants involves others in her plan and she can’t negotiate their lives.  She is a character that is lost and wants to find the way. Although she knows a lot of men she doesn’t understand them and presenting her friend with a book on vultures because they “mate for life” sends the wrong signal to any man walking through her voluptuous door.  She loves the idea of “cats” but frequents the Birdhouse for love and satisfaction not realizing a cat may be all she needs for short-term satisfaction.  Plucino is marvelous in the role and her craft is extraordinary in purpose. 

Patrick John Hurley as Walt does a remarkable job as a barkeep, a man of the peace, and a loving father. Hurley does all the little things with finesse that make the play soar.  As the character he is so entrenched (back behind the bar) in the lives of everyone he meets, they slowly take the life out of him and that is the reason he must move on.  He knows what he needs to do for his family.  His son is the most important person in his life. And while he may have little time left, he wants to provide that time and space with love to the one that matters most. Having his son live in a group home must tear him to pieces.

Michael Pisnarski as Reggie does a fine job.  As the character he must find a way to cope with his disabilities. Hurley has captured the spirit of the character but there is more to be had here.  Youth may be part of the problem.  Nevertheless, Pisnarski gives a spirited performance and one can’t help but be with him in spirit and admiration.

One goes to theatre to find little “gems” like Birds of a Feather.  Christina Hart has written a beautiful show that cuts to the heart and makes us believe in the human spirit. In short it is a story of change that we must all face no matter how much it hurts.   We must leave all the unpleasant things behind us and move forward. Her story is one of compassion, of truth, and an intimate and quirky slice of humanity.  This is a carefully crafted piece of art that deserves to be seen.  

Robert Burgos, the director, takes the plays and does some amazing work with the actors.  The actors in this show have a definitive character and those characters are guided to make the most of situation.  And while everything does not hit its mark it is as close to perfection as one can get.  

Still, if I were to add to this fine production, I would heighten the moments between the father and the feelings to his son’s outside controlling interest.  We know that Walt has health issues we should see more of that on stage to make those moments that are mentioned work throughout the play.  

Also, the additional crew below did a marvelous job and deserves the recognition of this very fine production.

Additional Set Concept and Construction: Dale Parry
Backdrop Artist: Matt Aston
Lighting Design: Samantha Szigeti
Sound Design: James Ledesma
Additional Sound Contribution: Bob Thiel
Publicity:  Philip Sokoloff
Graphic Design: Jolene Adams
Photographer: Gil Ortiz
Stage Manager:  Kevin Bone
Stage Hand: Josh Ledesma

Run to see this production and while you’re at it take a misguided and lonely friend.

Reservations:  323-960-7785

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