Friday, March 15, 2013

The Bird House by Diane Glancy

Randy Reinholz as Reverend Hawk

By Joe Straw

“Now faith is the substance of thing hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  - Hebrews – 11.1 King James Bible

They’ve got this fracking thing down to a science.  It’s an interesting way of getting gas out of the earth.  And if the Chinese want the patented technology you know it must be worth something.

But there’s this thing about fracking.  It poisons well water, and does a number of other unmentionable things, like earthquakes.  And by the time they’ve extracted the gas, oil, etc. they’ve moved on to another place to extract, disturbing another set of unsuspecting people, polluting, and destroying other communities.

“No it doesn’t.” – Oil companies.

“Yes it does.” – Environmentalists.

The Bird House takes place in Ropesville, Texas and if you go to the Google map of Ropesville, TX, population 434, you’ll see a town that looks like something from Peter Bagdonivich’s “The Last Picture Show” where there is nothing but vast stretches of dirt, sand, and sage covering the few asphalt roads along with two churches and a Nazarene Parsonage. If you place yourself, in the sandy road, and look out into the horizon, you can believe that life has many choices.  

Native Voices at The Autry, America’s Leading Native American Theatre Company presents the World Premiere of The Bird House by Diane Glancy and directed by Robert Caisley.  It is a enjoyable perspective of a people living a simple life with things changing too fast all around them.

Jonathan Logan or Reverend Hawk (Randy Reinholz) is an evangelical preacher who has got the callin’ but the callin’ just ain’t got him. 

The parishioners have left in droves, mostly moving to places where there are jobs. Now sitting in the pews are his half sister, Majel (Carla-Rae) his full sister Clovis (Ellen Dostal) and one other craggily parishioner Rope/RoyTrabing (Robert Owens-Greygrass). Not much to collect from the collection plate - if one was even passed around.  

And as the Reverend Hawk walks in his church he notices a man sitting in his pew.  Looking vaguely familiar, and just like his father.   Justin Lawrence (Tyler Cook) is there, head down, paying a little more than a social call. 

Lawrence, tall and imposing, doesn’t like the way things are going on in this church.  The board has sent him down to access the church’s current situation. (Code for we are going to figure out what you’re doing wrong and make it right and if it’s you that needs righting, then so be it.)

Reverend Hawk says life has been a little bleak since his wife died. The economy is destroying the community and Majel has decided to stay on and help around the church.  

Lawrence has sympathies for the death of Reverend Hawk’s wife but suggests cutting anywhere he can cut, including letting his sister go, but Hawk says she’s not that expensive and she’s doing all the things his wife use to do.  Lawrence tells him they are thinking of selling the parsonage.

Hawk, keeping the faith, knows that things will turn around soon enough and he implores Lawrence to look at it from his perspective. Lawrence, trying to find a way, says he’ll be back with some answers to the church’s problems.  

One more problem to add to Hawk’s difficulties is that Clovis has been thrown out of her daughter’s house and Clovis decides to move into the church because she has nowhere else to go.  This is one more expense the church doesn’t need but they take her in, or she forces her way in.  With church folk, it is hard to determine.

“My daughter won’t talk to me.  I can’t go back.” – Clovis

They make her a place in the corner somewhere in the church but she has got major health issues.

Rope/Roy Trabing (Robert Owens-Greygrass) and Majel along with Clovis sit out in lawn chairs at night watching the kids camping out in tents. Majel speaks quietly about her first marriage and her one-day honeymoon before her newlywed husband disappears and was possibly eaten by a bear. Rope follows Majel around as though a rope tied him to her. He wants her but she is still disillusion by her first marriage.

Their discourse is interrupted by the sounds of oil tankers going by which they decide they are going to protest at a meeting and they enlist Hawk to join the protest.

“Don’t frack with Texas.” – reads one sign.

But Hawk wants nothing to do with the protest.

Later Clovis has a stroke and loses the ability of speech. And although no one understands her she is able to communicate clearly in her own mind.

Randy Reinholz as Jonathan Logan or Reverend Hawk has a strong voice and he is able to use it to emphasize The Book of Job.  (An interesting note: Job is described as being shallow and foolish, and a man grateful on a superficial level, creating an opening for trouble to enter his life.) Why would a character trying to save his church invoke the name of Job?  The action of Hawk doesn’t do anything to save the church.  If fact, he is a man torn with frustration not knowing what he needs to do. He kneels in the balcony and prays but won’t lift a finger to demonstrate against the oil companies who are fracking his town into ruin.  The weight of his sermons carries little convictions and do not stir the emotions of his congregation or himself.  He has the opportunity to go out into the community but he has lost the faith to carry on. (As an aside Reinholz has an action on stage involving a pillow that cause an audience member to gasp, loudly. And I’ll have to admit I felt the same thing, for the same reason, without the gasp.)

Tyler Cook plays Justin Lawrence.  He is tall and majestic with a slight air of arrogance.  He knows he’s there to shut the place down so why beat around the bush.  Shut it down for the love of God and while you are at it take copious notes. (Physical and mental.) There is nothing more sinister than a Texan taking more land away from a Native American for the sake of big oil.  Nevertheless, it was a job well done.

L - R Carla-Rae (Majel) and Ellen Dostal (Clovis) 

Carla-Rae plays Majel and has a very interesting look.  Although it’s not really clear what she wanted.  A home perhaps or to take care of her siblings.  She isn’t interested in the man courting her; maybe she believes that it will lead to a relationship that has no future. She loses a lot to get what she wants, the problem is:  we are not really sure what she wants.  She complains about being a half-sister, but isn’t bothered to change things.  Nevertheless, she handles herself well and does some very nice things on stage.

Ellen Dostal plays Clovis a relative that has nowhere else to go. So, she invades the house with the hopes that one of her siblings will take care of her and her health issues. There is simply nowhere else to rest her weary soul but in this fine church. But, in this town, she can cross the street and she’s in her daughter’s home. Dostal does a lot of very lovely things on stage and it’s very hard not to be sympathetic to her plight.

Robert Owens-Greygrass does well playing Rope/Roy Trabing a cowboy who is in love with one of the sisters.  He doesn’t have a future and he knows it.  He gets along the best way he knows how, stealing and other things, but what he does have is a lot of heart. And he goes after the love of his life with all of his might despite his many faults. Owens-Greygrass gives us the pictures we so desperately need when watching characters from this small town trying to survive the best way they know how.  

Jennifer Bobiwash is an understudy for Mavis and Clovis but did not perform the night I was there.

Darrell Dennis is an understudy for Jonathan Logan, Justin Lawrence, and Rope.  He opened the show with an introduction and a prayer and did quite well. But, he did not perform this night.

Robert Caisley, the director, had enough presence of mind to have an actor hold a pillow in such a way as to having some member of the audience gasp out loud. And this is an interesting challenge to connect this action with faith, which I believe is the core or through line of the play. Simply put, every actor on stage has an objective, intention, or whatever you want to call a strong motivational force to move the play along. Faith plays into the core.  Also, Caisley needs to find a way to make the play move seamlessly, finding a way to keep a continuous flow between scene changes.

Diane Glancy, the writer, has written a very stimulating play.  It’s always fun to come to a World Premier.  Glancy writes a story of people living a simple life and gazing at the stars on lawn chairs watching the kids camping out in tents. All are taking a moment to observe the simple complexities of life and trying so hard to find the meaning of it all.  The characters are well defined, the relationships work, and we can all clasp onto a truth here and there.  Protecting the environment is one thing I can latch onto but the core of the play needs tweaking.  Something is missing. The book of Hebrews deals with faith and faith is a good choice that leads characters into a mess of trouble, but faith without strong action is of little use to anyone.  The characters want to help Clovis after her stroke; they give her a tiny spoon of applesauce.  But are they weak in character to want more for Clovis? Do they have faith that they can make Clovis better? Or no faith at all? Also, why help the sick, if you’re not going to pray for the sick.  Praying is an action to make Clovis better. And she does, but only in her mind, which I find very fascinating.  

“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having see them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” – Hebrews 11.13

Maybe they saw their dreams beyond the horizon.

Nicely produced by Randy Reinholz. 

Other members of the crew are.

Susan Baker Scharpf, Scenic Design
R. Craig Wolf, Lighting Design
E. B. Brooks, Costume Design
Sean Kozma, Sound Design
Shannon Dedman, Prop Design
Tim Davis, Stage Manager
Watson Bradshaw, Technical Director
Jean Bruce Scott, Dramaturg


This is a limited engagement running through Sunday March 17, 2:00pm.

Run and take someone who likes the very simple things in life.

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