Birds are fascinating to most people because of the freedoms they embody: soaring, diving, and taking a dump while airborne (no, visiting the restroom on a Boeing 727 isn't the same thing). So it's no surprise that playwright Adam Bock chose to use birds as his central fixation in Five Flights, now being produced by Convergence-Continuum.
However, Bock has penned a thin and scattered script, hopping and flitting from one theatrical chestnut to another (here a weighty monologue, there a whimsical pantomime sequence). This mélange requires an accomplished production to bring it all together, and in this instance, the usually competent Con-Con company fails more often than it succeeds. As a result, the show reveals all the rough patches in Bock's writing while only fitfully realizing his funnier moments. This in turn undercuts the playwright's observations on religion and how people seek their own true flight patterns in life.
Three adult children — Ed, Adele, and the unseen Bobby — have been left a house-sized aviary in their father's will, a structure dad erected as a tribute to his dead wife. You see, one day a wren landed on his hand and he had the epiphany that the bird was his wife's soul, so he built a super-sized birdhouse where she could fly about.
Meanwhile, Adele's friend Olivia has arrived on the scene espousing her new religion, the Church of the Fifth Day, referring to the day during God's week of biblical creation when He made the creatures of the air. A series of handy and conjured-up coincidences lead Olivia to the aviary, where she and Adele (a sweetly smiling and mostly believable Jaclyn Cifranic) want to start a bird-centric congregation.
But Ed is in favor of just letting the aviary deteriorate naturally and crumble to dust. And Jane, Bobby's tight-assed and domineering wife, is trying to strong-arm her in-laws into selling the land.
Bock has gently mocking things to say about religion — especially when Olivia explains the tortured logic that led her to this faith where the number five is predominant. Apparently her breakthrough happened on the 40th day, "which is five times five plus five plus five plus five." Real religions have been founded on less-sturdy platforms. And Bock has fun with the intersection of sex, sports, and art when Ed finds himself drawn immediately and passionately to soft-spoken Tom, a local gay hockey player who is also a ballet fan.
But this production, as helmed by Clyde Simon (director and set designer), flies off in a questionable direction from the outset. Instead of crafting a fragile scenic design that would be true to avian home construction, Simon imposes a set that's built, quite literally, like a brick chick house.
With solid walls of white brick along with brick-based sitting areas, this aviary looks more like a railroad passenger depot dotted with some old bird poop here and there. If Ed is waiting for this place to tumble and fall, it could take a couple centuries.
It's hard to know if that set has a negative effect on the performers, but key roles have the same rooted aspect as the set they occupy. As Olivia, Lauri Hammer reads her lines but never fashions a character we care about. One might expect eccentric Olivia to share some birdlike qualities with her beloved fowls, but Hammer's bland approach takes no chances and therefore lays an egg.
The same is true with Elaine Feagler as rigid Jane. It's not enough to know that a character is supposed to be abrupt and aggressive and then convey that by simply acting abrupt and aggressive. There are comical, curious, and even appealing undertones to Jane that Feagler doesn't access in her shrill one-note trill.
Zac Hudak does better with Ed, although he swings a bit too wildly from shy and introverted to goofy and uninhibited — with no clear reasons why. Hardbodied Clint Elston is acceptable as probably the world's quietest hockey player, although his suddenly expansive riff on the similarities between his sport and ballet is remarkably unconvincing.
The best performance is turned in by Robert A. Branch in the small role of Andre, Tom's teammate. Exuding the rough bonhomie of a professional puck pusher, Branch's impulsive and gay-friendly Andre owns the stage whether he's in the shower, urging Ed to smooch Tom, or watching a ballet with Tom, Ed, and Adele.
And speaking of that ballet scene: It's just another opportunity missed, as we watch a dance reflected in those four faces. But it looks as if they're in the first row of a tennis match, often snapping their heads from side to side instead of tracking the subtler (and potentially funnier) leaps and pirouettes of a ballet.
There are enough wrinkles in this production that one hardly notices how obvious and preachy playwright Bock becomes, especially near the end. By that time, this bird has flown the coop.
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