In the Strawberry Theatre Workshop’s latest production, The Birds, audiences are drawn into the world of three characters whose lives turn upside down with the fierce attack of birds in the night sky each day leaving them with only each other to rely on.
Based on Daphne du Maurier’s short story, this production puts a modern spin on the original. Rather than being set shortly after World War II, the play is set in our current day and age. Without ever stating a specific location, viewers are granted the freedom to place themselves into the situation the characters find themselves in.
With only a cast of four, each actor had to depend on each other just as much as their characters did. For any ensemble, especially one of this size, this is not something easily done. However, all four actors in this production pulled it off flawlessly. From beginning to end, there was something so natural and convincing about their acting that as an audience member, you simply forgot you were watching a play. It was as if you were a fly on the wall experiencing everything alongside them.
If there’s one stand out cast member, then it has to be Sarah Harlett who played Diane, the level headed writer whose voice we often heard as a narration of the words she meticulously scrawled in her journal. From her facial expressions to body language, Harlett commanded the stage and the audience’s attention with every move she made. In one of her shining moments she says, “God is real. Because I am god,” and you can literally feel yourself move forward in your seat in a desperate attempt to understand her and her struggles.
The actors’ glowing performance is also due in fact to how great the lighting and sound was. There was something so utterly chilling and disturbing about hearing the sound of screeching birds multiple times throughout the play combined with the darkness and occasional flickers of light that you can’t help but feel slightly terrified. This production also employed light in a unique way by using it to capture the shadows of birds flying overhead. It added yet another dose of realism and although you knew there weren’t actually any birds you couldn’t help but look up just to make sure.
While the soundtrack mainly consists of dark, ominous music, there are certain spots where softer music is played that works with the characters’ actions. When it’s Nat’s (Shawn Belyea) birthday, Julia (Meme Garcia) puts on a record that fills the room with soft, piano music and the two share a tender moment as they waltz around the living room.
It’s the rare moments like this where the characters forget about the nearly apocalyptic world they inhabit that makes you feel the most sympathy for them. What’s going to happen to them? Will they survive? Will the birds ever stop?
Although we never get a clear answer to any of these questions, we’re left with a sense of hope in the end as Nat and Diana exit the cabin in search of a better place to stay.
As the lights come up, the theater is filled with “Across the Universe” by The Beatles which perfectly captures the whole mood of the play. “Nothing’s gonna change my world,” the Beatles sing and while that seems like an overstatement considering the fact that there are killer birds trying to attack these characters, it’s the characters’ humanity and kindness towards each other that makes you understand and admire what it means to be a human.
The Birds, a Strawberry Theater Workshop production directed by Greg Carter. At 12th Ave Arts in Seattle through Feb. 20. For tickets visit brownpapertickets.com