note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Beverly Creasey
By Beverly Creasey
In AS YOU LIKE IT Shakespeare instructs the humans to find “sermons in stones” and “tongues in trees,” such is the power of nature. Playwright Ellen McLaughlin finds a human cry in the TONGUE OF A BIRD, her achingly beautiful story of mothers who can’t find their way, mothers who lose their daughters, daughters who lose themselves and the hope that comes with renewal.
TONGUE OF A BIRD, in director Lesley Chapman’s tender, nurturing hands, soars, literally in the form of a search plane scouring the horizon for a lost child…and figuratively, in an expansive metaphor for the world (“as a mother who has turned away from her children”). McLaughlin’s play resonates large in a seemingly immoral world---and it resonates small, from parent to child.
McLaughlin uses magical imagery alongside the realism so that characters can converse across time. Maxine is a pilot who prefers nature to people, the open sky to the measured earth. She doesn’t feel connected to the world, having lost her mother and her memories at an early age. She is about to find a connection in McLaughlin’s elegantly filigreed play, through another mother, a woman who desperately needs her help to locate a missing child.
The Theatre Coop’s riveting production glides from scene to scene (from Matt Soule’s clever single engine aircraft to Maxine’s grandmother’s bare house) on Doc Madison’s flight plan, which draws us in by the beating of a heart, the frenetic beating of wings and the putt-putt beating of an airplane engine (continuing curiously, significantly over contiguous scenes) all ethereally lit by Tom Callahan.
Lesley Chapman has the knack for choosing provocative, gripping new plays and she has the keen eye to give them exquisite settings. TONGUE OF A BIRD is certainly one of the best new plays to fly by these parts and you won’t see better ensemble work anywhere. Korinne Hertz as the search and rescue pilot charts a course which carries us right along with her on her emotional journey to discovery. When she is able to hold her mother in her memory, no daughter could steel her heart to the touching reconciliation. Eve Passeltiner has the difficult role of the mother who abandoned her child, yet we feel for her, too, so moving is her plight. So, too, is the grandmother’s harrowing tale, so even Maureen Adduci’s silences are compelling.
Kim Anton’s tour de force performance, however, as the mother of the kidnapped child is as delicate and intricate, and as fragile as spun glass. She takes your breath away with her ability to channel abject grief and frantic pain. And what a glorious friendship develops when she and Maxine leave the cold, cruel earth behind and head to the skies. Alexandra Lewis gives a cheeky portrayal of the little girl who brings all the characters together. You will not find more exciting work anywhere. Theatre Coop does it again.