Some of my favorite plays of all time are memory plays. I have written about some of these during my time here with the HuffPost, and it is in this vein that I want to share some of my memories and thoughts about the latest memory play that has captured my imagination: Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas's Bird in the Hand.
From the moment I first heard a reading of this play, sitting in a classroom at the NYU Abu Dhabi building near Washington Square Park, I knew that this play was like nothing I'd ever heard or seen before. The reading itself was that rare kind of experience that I always hope for, the kind where the metal music stands begin to fade into the background, as the words paint a picture in your mind of what a full performance would look like. As I sat in the final dress rehearsal of Bird in the Hand a few nights ago, I watched those same words come to life in a whole new way.
Though I am involved with this project through my work with The Fulcrum, and I'm certainly too close to it to review the production, I would like to discuss the play at a structural level. As I said before, I have written about my love of plays, like Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie and Brian Friel's Dancing at Lughnasa, and my disappointment with plays like David Bar Katz's The Atmosphere of Memory, which had a very creative concept, but did not follow through entirely.
It is the specific positioning towards the topic of memory in Bird in the Hand that is my favorite thing about the play. In this piece, memory is something that self-consciously interacts with imagination and mental self-preservation. This renders the characters both honest and vulnerable, while still maintaining a wryly comic tone. From my point of view, the challenge in a memory play is that of showing something that cannot be changed (a supposedly historic event) while still creating a plot that moves something forward.
In other words, how do you go backwards in time and forwards in some other dimension, such as maturity? The plays that do this successfully could be rather depressing, but still have some aspect of hope or at least personal responsibility. In The Glass Menagerie, we worry about the uncertain (or depressingly certain) fates of Laura and Amanda, but we know that Tom has used these experiences to grow and change. Likewise in Dancing at Lughnasa, the story of Michael's mother and his aunts influences Michael in his life as an adult. The flaw in The Atmosphere of Memory was its embrace of the meaninglessness of accurate memories. This kind of play folds back in on itself, instead of extending outwards through time the way the two other examples have.
The finesse of Bird in the Hand comes from the delicacy and acceptance gained through the quirky comedy that pervades the script. In production, the visual elements all reiterate the textual themes, resulting in a piece of theater that is alive in both body and mind simultaneously. The memories in this postmodern play interact with their status as memories to form a narrative device that I have never seen before. I won't reveal it to you ahead of time, as the process of identifying exactly how the narration is working was one of my favorite parts of my first experience with the piece.
If you like memory plays, flamingoes, new plays, or theater in general, I highly recommend coming to Theater for the New City to see Bird in the Hand. I think you'll see that it is worth two in the bush.