Written by Julie Marie Myatt
Directed by Dan Bonnell
I grew up deep in the English countryside, in a wood so full of birds and animals that it was verging on the Disney-like. So when ‘Roger,’ the protagonist in this marvelous new play by acclaimed playwright Julie Marie Myatt, finds his epiphany in the eyes of a doting father finch nesting outside his Los Feliz home, I can honestly say I am right there with him. Especially as I now live deep, deep in the city of Los Angeles.
Roger is a middle aged accountant with two young children and a loving wife who is, after said epiphany, so rattled by his experience he stops going to work, loses his job, obviously, and neglects to tell his wife for an entire year. Yikes…
The play is set across the span of this year and continues to follow Roger after he does eventually tell his wife, and during their struggle with the consequences of his disastrous fear of facing reality.
But in the end, this play is really not about that at all, although the theme of that fear is and of itself very relevant. No, Birder is about how each of us copes with the choices we make in our lives, if we give ourselves a moment to really face them, and how each of us experiences sadness, resists reality and allows the fear of change and the possibility of disappointing those we love to rule us and in many ways to quite literally petrify us.
Roger, (who by his own wife’s measure is ‘a little weird’) while endlessly watching the finch’s nest outside of his own kitchen window, was searching for meaning to his life. How interesting it is that so many of us have a tendency to do this by looking ‘without’ rather than ‘within.’
After his bird experience, Roger answers an ad on Craigslist to join a local bird watching group, which actually turns out to be one man, Charles, who has recently lost his wife, and his daughter Rebecca, who is desperately hoping that her father connecting with other people will bring him some comfort.
Much of the play is spent in the Angeles National Forest, the set brilliantly depicting the quiet and the softness of the wilderness with beautiful projections against a boxy, architectural set that is brilliantly and effortlessly evolved into Roger’s home. The staging of The Road Theatre Company’s productions are always breathtaking I have to say, and this play is no exception.
Charles has his own demons to wrestle, although he prefers to do it in the quiet of the wild, and Roger, as a means to escape his life further, crushes hard on Rebecca, in a sweetly childlike way, rather than predatory.
Roger’s wife Joyce, is played by Laurie Okin, and she is truly incredible in the role. At once funny and poignant, strong and defeated, she plays Joyce with such truth that we relate to her as no victim, but as flawed as Roger, in her own unique way. It reminds me yet again that our perceptions of others ‘success’ can be so very far from the actual truth of their lives.
Roger is played by the wonderful Chet Grissom, with a dry and relentlessly childlike charm. Charles is played by the sublime Webster Williams and together they create such a wonderfully endearing friendship, so beautifully and achingly written by Julie Marie Myatt that I found myself longing for the company of my father and remembering our time together in our wilderness.
Rebecca is played by the lovely and subtly talented Monique Marie Gelineau who manages to portray a myriad of emotions while maintaining the shyness of her character. Rebecca’s boyfriend Todd is played by Crash Buist, a hilarious Apple exec who clashes so perfectly with Roger and his newly acquired anti-establishment ethos it was a pleasure to watch them both maneuver.
I loved the way this play was produced. The design of the set, the astounding cast, the beautiful and evocative sound design and, of course, the gorgeous words, without which even the more than capable hands of the Director Dan Bonnell would have nothing to do.
Birder is a brilliant, highly imaginative and fascinating depiction of a life in crisis - a man questioning his role as a father and a husband and a human being existing in a high pressured and impossible to fulfill role in society that he himself helped create. It examines our need for silence and peace in our overloaded and undervalued lives and what happens when we are all too busy to notice that we are falling apart.
I kept hearing the song “Once in a Lifetime” by The Talking Heads careening around in my mind for days after I saw the play, the lyric’s “And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife. And you may ask yourself well…how did I get here?” resonating wildly. It’s something we all need to think about from time to time…are we who and where we want to be?
I highly recommend ‘Birder’ - another play by the extremely talented and prolific Julie Marie Myatt.
The play runs from April 29th through June 19th at The Road Theatre on Lankershim, Fridays and Saturdays @ 8PM, Sundays at 2PM.
Roger - Chet Grissom
Joyce - Laurie Okin
Rebecca - Monique Marie Gelineau
Charles - Webster Williams
Todd - Crash Buist
Voice - over - Charlie Schenk & Kekoa Pastron
Written by - Julie Marie Myatt
Directed by - Dan Bonell
Producers - Donna Simone Johnson & Ann Hearn
Assistant Director - James Holloway
Scenic Design - Tom Buderwitz
Lighting & Production Design - Tom Ontiveros
Asst. Production Design - Justin Humphres
Sound Design - David B. Marling
Costume Design - Michele Young
Stage Manager - Maurie Gonzalez
Publicist - David Elzer
Online Marketing - Corryn Cummins