Author: Minard, Anna
Date published: November 2, 2011
There Are No Grown-Ups Here
The Mormon Bird Play's Dead Birds and Dreamscapes
The Mormon Bird Play
Through Nov 21
The outsider character in Roger Benington's The Mormon Bird Play, the one who may or may not represent Benington himself-or all of us, or the other characters' sins, or something-was mostly mute. And maybe mentally handicapped. And maybe magic. I'm still not sure.
She (played by actor Parker Matthews- the cast is all male) did or didn't bring dead animals back to life, discover buried treasure, and cough up money. She definitely wore a dead bird around her neck. She either was or wasn't a magic bird princess and/or priestess. So I'm confused, and I think that's all right. The Mormon Bird Play doesn't want you to be comfortable. It meanders then rushes through reality and unrealities (dreamscapes, fantasies) while players drop character to announce scene changes and occasionally glance at scripts. Straightforwardness isn't on the agenda, sometimes to the point of obnoxious inscrutability.
A half-dozen actors, all young handsome men, play a variety of characters, mostly young Mormon girls in Utah. Parents and priests are mentioned, but this is a land built and ruled by children-which is truly creepy, since in the land of children, along with play ceremonies and games and gossip, there is also fucking and fighting and shunning. A world with no grownups is a dangerous place. The kids filter their intensely religious life through the strange lens of childish ignorance, and inflict on each other whatever abuses they've suffered.
The basic structure is this: Ivona, the outsider, has come from Idaho to live with her extended family in Utah after an unexplained tragedy. She almost never speaks and doesn't much interact with her cousins or newfound "friends." Vacant-eyed, vaguely demented, and doomed, Ivona is the new center of these kids' world, and they play with her like a new pet or toy.
As Ivona, Parker Matthews is consistently compelling. Keep your eyes on him when other people are the focus of a scene-you won't regret it. The rest of the adults play children well; their body language and the way they talk embody that odd mix of innocence and growing awareness of the larger world. "Birds die while they're flying, you know. Grandpa had a heart attack in his car. It's the same thing," one kid explains early on, in the let-me-teach-you-about-the-world voice kids use to share acquired wisdom. They're mostly swallowing and regurgitating their parents' religion, but the weirdness of Mormonism multiplied by the weirdness of kids' imaginations makes the whole thing sound like an epic joke. "Sometimes I wonder if Jesus really wants me for a sunbeam," sighs one girl in a contemplative moment.
Overall, The Mormon Bird Play feels disjointed. Some scenes seem harvested directly from Benington's last acid trip (an extended fantasy/dream sequence where bird-people in fringed satin capes force the bully character through odd Mormon temple-style rituals), some of them seem to come from real backyard conversations. The mix of silliness and abuse never congeals into a unified tone, but most of the performances are entertaining as all hell- and if you like to feel emotionally sore after a show, this one'll do that for you.