No, not The Birds by Aristophanes, or If We Were Birds by Erin Shields.
No, this here’s The Birds, as in the Alfred Hitchcock film and Daphne du Maurier stories. In a limber adaptation by Emily Dix (who also directs and designs), we watch socialite Daphne succumb to the ever-so-creepy uncertainties of a rural cabin, awaiting a lover who might never show while placating an erratic, elusive brother. Dix, in writing, design and direction has very much preserved Hitchcock’s pacing and atmosphere, and her cast’s quite good, too, particularly Anna Douglas as Daphne.
But Hart House Theatre is a cave, and not in the cool, studded-with-interesting-rocks way. This production of The Birds isn’t served by its venue. Some of Dix’s writing gets lost to a bouncy acoustic, and some of the production’s visuals get swallowed by a too-large-for-this-project auditorium. It’s a tough space to wrangle into usability, and The Birds isn’t the first project that’s felt out of place in a venue whose origin as a Little Theatre Movement flagship feels painfully obvious in 2022.
But once you get past the architectural limitations of Hart House, The Birds proves itself a fully capable, often enjoyable pastiche of Hitchcock and du Maurier. Dix has a clear reverence for her source material, weaving in cheeky allusions to the Hitchcockian opus and its carousel of tropes. Dix is a damn good costume designer too — of her many hats, it’s the one she perhaps wears best in this visually lovely production, in total harmony with Wes Babcock’s set and lights.
Douglas is a compelling Daphne, appropriately clueless to the goings-on around her, and often funny as the socialite-out-of-water faced with the consequences of her own foolish choices. (She too nails the mid-atlantic accent: in no way does it sound real, but then again, even in the movies it never was meant to approximate real-life speech cadences, was it?) Alex Clay as Daphne’s brother, David, keeps his menacing intentions subtle, making the show’s second half’s payoff all the more sublime. Oliver Georgiou, Kiera Publicover and Chad Allen complete the cast well, particularly Georgiou’s slimy, mysterious take on Daphne’s ex-lover Mitch.
The birdiness of it all has been handled deftly by Dix and her team — to save a spoiler, no, one doesn’t get the sense a budget line has been dedicated to fake feathers. In the absence of real, physical birds, are fleeting (or is it tweeting?) avian references and sneaky nicknames: smart move on Dix’s part.
All in all, The Birds accomplishes quite a bit in two or so hours, paying masterful homage to a highly specific filmic tradition and massaging complex performances from a formidable cast. Hart House robs the production of what might take it over the edge from good to great — a more intimate space might have made the “thriller” aspect of the project feel more immediate — but Dix and her team have an appealing product here, and no, it’s not just for film buffs.
The Birds runs at Hart House Theatre through December 10. Tickets are available here.
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