Review: “Songbird” at 59E59 Theaters

Review: “Songbird” at 59E59 Theaters

David Roberts

A long list of adaptations including those by Tennessee Williams (“The Notebook of Trigorin”), Emily Mann (“A Seagull in the Hamptons”), and Regina Taylor (“Drowning Crow”) have payed homage to Anton Chekhov’s 1986 “The Seagull” by retelling the story of the dysfunctional Russian family in a variety of creative ways. “Songbird,” currently running at 59E59 Theaters, continues the retelling tradition with felicitous results. Stories of unhappy lives fueled by unrequited love are not confined to the Russian tundra nor are the revelations of inner selves fueled only by copious draughts of vodka. A struggling music venue in Tennessee serving beer and shots is witness to the failed hopes and discontented lives of a fading music star who is at the helm of a dysfunctional extended family.

"Songbird” is successful in two ways. Thanks to Michael Kimmel’s rich text, it is a remarkably rich retelling of Chekhov’s classic, following the characters, their conflicts, and their tortured stories in exacting parallel progression. And it is a stand-alone play which highlights the universality of individuals and families confronting and demystifying the challenges of discontented lives and the failed hopes that challenge humankind and its discontents. Chekhov’s seagull becomes a bluebird here with the same rich connections and metaphorical vectors extant in Chekhov’s masterpiece.

L-R: Kacie Sheik, Erin Dilly, Don Guillory, Bob Stillman, Andy Taylor, Kate Baldwin, Eric William Morris, Ephie Aardema, and Drew McVety in SONGBIRD at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Jenny Anderson Photography

L-R: Kacie Sheik, Erin Dilly, Don Guillory, Bob Stillman, Andy Taylor, Kate Baldwin, Eric William Morris, Ephie Aardema, and Drew McVety in SONGBIRD at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Jenny Anderson Photography

Under JV Mercanti’s scrupulous and precise direction, the ensemble cast rips into Michael Kimmel’s text with passion and exposes every nuance of the script with exacting honesty and authenticity. Ephie Aardema gives Mia a profound longing for love and acceptance and the persona of a truly wounded songbird. Erin Dilly’s Pauline is also looking for acceptance as is Pauline’s daughter Missy (Kacie Sheik). Pauline, unhappy with her marriage to Samuel (Andy Taylor), woos Doc (Drew McVety) with a sad woundedness and Missy pines for Rip (Don Guillory) from her core of brokenness. Honky Tonk owner Soren is played by Bob Stillman with a brooding and expectant wonder. And Tammy’s younger love interest is played with panache and puck by Eric William Morris.

Lauren Pritchard’s music and lyrics capture the mood and torment of Tammy Trip’s (played with an aggressive vulnerability by Kate Baldwin) return to the Honky Tonk that launched her career and her jealous intrusion into her son Dean’s (played with a brooding angst by Adam Cochran) attempt to embark on his own performance career. And Michael Kimmel’s text transposes the underbelly of Chekhov’s “Seagull” to a contemporary and believable setting where hopes, dreams, disappointments, and despondency collide and collude to a destructive end.

The members of the ensemble cast play all of the instruments with skill and a playfulness that belies the fact that they are the orchestra for Lauren Pritchard’s solid score.

“Songbird” continues the successful 5A Season offering a remarkable and inviting retelling of a stage classic. See it before its final performance on Sunday December 6, 2015.

SONGBIRD

The cast of “Songbird” features Ephie Aardema, Kate Baldwin, Adam Cochran, Erin Dilly, Don Guillory, Drew McVety, Eric William Morris, Kacie Sheik, Bob Stillman, and Andy Taylor. The design team includes Jason Sherwood (scenic design); Aaron Porter (lighting design); Mark Koss (costume design); and Justin Stasiw (sound design). The production stage manager is Rose Riccardi. Production photos by Jenny Anderson Photography. “Songbird” is presented by Allison Bressi, Diana Buckhantz, and Andre Braugher by special association with Less Than Rent Theatre.

“Songbird” opened on Wednesday October 28 and runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, December 6 at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street in New York City. The performance schedule is Tuesday - Thursday at 7 PM; Friday at 8 PM; Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM; and Sunday at 3 PM. Please note: there is no performance on Thursday, November 26 in observance of Thanksgiving. Tickets are $70 ($49 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org.  Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes including one 15 minute intermission

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