Children are taught at a very young age to never talk to strangers. If you were playing in the front yard while your mother hung the clothes on the clothesline, and a complete stranger, in stoic confidence and nonchalance, told you that you’re adopted how would you react? Would you panic? Question everything, including every word your best friend and mother ever told you? Such is the story of Susannah (or Squeezer, as her parents call her) in Mac Wellman’s Hyacinth Macaw, California Repertory Company’s latest contribution to Long Beach theatre, performing at the Royal Theatre on the Queen Mary.
Guest director Jim Martin tackles this eyebrow-raising piece that will have you leaning forward in your seat for the majority of the evening. Ben Brantley of The New York Times referred to a 1994 production Wellman’s play as a “entertainingly immoderate portrait of America adrift.” Now in 2011, Hyacinth Macaw is still pertinent in the self-reflection of today’s society, and Cal Rep has assembled five of its brilliant company members to bring this story to Long Beach.
Anna Steers is Squeezer in this remotely fantastical, down-home world of Bug River. Squeezer’s simple life with her mother Dora (Lysa Fox) and Raymond (Craig Anton) is about to be launched into whatever stratosphere applies to this imaginative world. With a sun and a moon visually playing tug of war in the background, the ominous but endearing Mr. Bill Hard (Jerry Prell) brings news to Squeezer’s family that he will now become the father in this isolated domesticity.
The dialogue in Macaw is predominantly nonsensical, but the story is blunt and unrelenting. Ray comes home to decipher a letter that Mr. Hard has bestowed upon the seemingly simple Dora. The brutal truth is that he is being replaced by Hard as the father of his family, because he is simply a duplicate. This truth is discovered after an integral confession to his wife about his unspeakable “animalistic urges” and his ability to think with free will. It is determined that Ray will leave after dinner the following evening, and like a thread being pulled from a sweater by an unknowing three year-old, the nuclear family and the only glimpse we have into Bug River are unraveled.
Despite the potentially confusing dialogue, the performers (not to omit, Simon Brooke as Mad Wu) are beautifully committed and are brilliant in their conveyance of an important message through this alternate world. On the technical side Macaw, the designers only add more to the world inside the Royal Theatre. Cristina Bejarano, with her acute awareness of scenic elements, created what initially seemed to be a scattered world of multiple angles and shapes, but complemented this relatable but distant world of Bug River. Nick Davidson was given the opportunity to light the stage for this show, and his ability to serenely illuminate the space with cool moonlight and soft, fiery ambers of the sun is delightful. Vivianne Pilon-Toppings, to no surprise, having seen her work in last semester’s production of the musical Nine, costumed the cast with artistic precision and elegance. With Justus Matthews (Sound Designer/Composer), Bethany Bunce (Make-up), and Amy Laemmerhirt (Props) rounding out the design team, this production is top-notch throughout.
Wellman’s Hyacinth Macaw may seem arbitrarily named, especially to those that need blatant connections between a show’s title and it’s action, but it is actually deftly titled. The hyacinth macaw is the largest of all macaws and parrots, originating from regions of South America. It has unfortunately become an endangered species, due to bird collectors and the fiery deforestation by expanding farmers. Like the title bird, our own ability to make our own choices and opt out of conformity set by media icons, governments, and other habitsetters (as opposed to “trendsetters”), is becoming endangered. Our families are infected, and it only spreads throughout society. It is up to Squeezer, our children, to bury this dying practice and take back the world.
Or he said: ‘Passing to the point of the cone You begin making the replica’.
-Ezra Pound, in Canto XXIX
Rating: 4 out of 5 masks
Mac Wellman’s Hyacinth Macaw, directed by Jim Martin for Cal Rep, performs in the Royal Theatre on the Queen Mary, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8pm now through March 12th. One Tuesday evening performance has been scheduled for March 8. For tickets, call 562-985-5526 or visit the website here.