By Lynne McMahon
Directed by Adam Webster
At The Side Project Theatre
Unspoken Thoughts and Pent Up Emotions
Lynne McMahon’s The Bird Sanctuary is a one-act drama about group of late middle-aged friends – two married couples – and their unspoken disappointments with their lives. It plays with another one-act, Mark A. Young’s The Rocks, which deals with a similar topic from a 20-something point of view. Though the theme is hardly original, the characters are interesting enough and the story sufficiently engaging to make for a worthwhile production. Side Project Artistic Director Adam Webster directs a veteran cast as they seamlessly intertwine monologues and dialogue that shock, amuse and ultimately touch the human core.
Most of the action centers on the home of Sam (Steve Ratcliff) and Deena (J. Kingsford Goode). They are a conventional couple – he, a hardworking hospital administrator, and she, a housewife who volunteers transporting crack babies and moms to their medical appointments. Their marriage seems happy and pretty ordinary, but underneath there is unspoken resentment and selfishness that is hidden from view. The other half of the “compass rose,” as they refer to their four-way friendship, consists of neighbors Ray (Fred Wellisch) and the much younger Jana (Amy Johnson). Their hostilities have some Virginia Woolf flashes that, while apparent from the opening scenes, are only sporadically vicious. Ray is a doctor and Sam’s best friend since college and Jana is a stay-at-home wife who doesn’t seem to have any interests.Predictably, they all drink a bit much from time to time, so when tragedy strikes one of the friends, it’s bottles of Veuve Clicquot that grease ajar the door through which emotional frustration creeps back in from exile in purgatory.
The Bird Sanctuary could be written off as just another nasty tale of marital dissonance except that even as the nasty side of all the friends becomes exposed, all involved civilly try to tell the story of unintended consequences – a very human tale – to the audience. Confrontational dialogue is mitigated by reasoned re-telling in direct address and while all agree that the “compass” is broken beyond repair, there is surprisingly little bitterness or blame in the retelling that is the present time. Webster achieves a quick pace and the shifts in time and place flow as easily as the dialogue/monologue shifts. There were a couple of minor gaffs on opening night, but that notwithstanding, this is a polished production. I have seen many shows in this tiny space and am always amazed at the way they manage to do so much in so little space.
The Bird Sanctuary runs as part of a double bill with Mark A. Young’s one-act play, The Rocks. Tickets for the two shows may be purchased together, separately, or in a variety of packages that include other one-acts presently in repertory at The Side Project. See their website for details.www.thesideproject.net
At The Side Project Theatre 1439 W. Jarvis St.,Chicago, IL, Tickets: 773-973-2150 or www.thesideproject.net , $15, Friday & Saturday at 7:30 pm, Sunday at 1:00 pm (follows another one-act, The Bird Sanctuary, shows available individually or as a package), Running time is 1 hour with no intermission.