Bad Language

The Hyacinth Macaw is all about the words

The Hyacinth Macaw

through April 7 at the Liminis

2438 Scranton Rd.

Tickets: $10 to $15


In the play Amadeus, Emperor Joseph II opines that the glorious music written by Mozart contains "too many notes." And we laugh at that silly thought.

But if you've ever felt that some plays have too many words, you may stop laughing when you witness the garrulous frenzy in The Hyacinth Macaw by Mac Wellman, now being produced by Convergence-Continuum.

In this weirdly entertaining and sometimes frustrating piece, the playwright unleashes a fire-hydrant onslaught of unusual words, invented scientific phrases, and complex syntactical constructions — and lets it roar out for about two hours.

The ultimate effect is both dazzling and self-defeating. At a slight remove, the play rather elegantly demonstrates how life feels in an illogical world embedded in a mysterious universe. But examined up close, the fact that all the characters speak in an identical, hyper-articulate language can wear down even the most attentive listener.

The basic plot outline, although bizarre, is not difficult to grasp. In the town of Gradual, on a night when the moon is sick, a dark-clad stranger shows up in a seemingly average American backyard with a letter for Raymond, the husband and father. It says that the bearer of the letter, Mr. Hard, has come to replace Raymond, since Raymond is a copy of Mr. Hard and that this problem has to be fixed.

Raymond accepts this fact with relative equanimity and leaves for Hard's previous turf, called "the land of evening." After Ray's departure, mom Dora and daughter Susannah go their separate ways: Dora with a pretend Chinaman named Mad Wu, and Susannah off on her own path — after helping bury the real moon, which the stranger had stashed in his suitcase.

Of course, this thin-legged storyline is only a framework upon which Wellman drapes his rambling, intricately nonsensical dialogue. These reveries and diatribes are encrusted with whiplash images that start off in one direction and then turn sharply in another. To wit: When Ray says his heart is full, he provides an extensive list of the items filling it, including lizard skin and photos of the lesser popes.

Fortunately, there are moments of crisp humor and momentary clarity. After meeting the mysterious Mr. Hard, Susannah muses, "You're acting too strange. Like family, almost." And another says, "I hunger for that which I will never be able to understand."

The key to this loquacious word-bomb is keeping the audience similarly hungry, and here the cast is only partially successful.

As Raymond and Dora, director Clyde Simon and Lucy Bredeson-Smith each have stellar moments when they master the furious tempo and intentional obfuscation of Wellman's language. Then you feel the giddy, floaty sensation you get when your car goes momentarily airborne, launched by a little rise in the road.

Michael Regnier as Mr. Hard nicely underplays his role, but could be more menacing, and Lauren B. Smith finds a comfortable niche for Susannah in this wacked-out family dynamic.

However, a play this dense with language requires virtually flawless deliveries from everyone onstage. And there are times when these actors are unable to free themselves from the obvious labor of reciting long strings of random verbal arcana.

Playwright Wellman is a favorite of Convergence-Continuum — this is the sixth script of his they've produced — no doubt because he employs linguistic subterfuge in search of larger revelations about the reality of the human condition. But sometimes that journey can be a little hard to take.

Like this story?
SCENE Supporters make it possible to tell the Cleveland stories you won’t find elsewhere.
Become a supporter today.

About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
Scroll to read more Arts Stories & Interviews articles


Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.