OnStage Associate New York Critic
Rapid development of electronic technology provides us with new ways of communicating. It also enables bullies to invade privacy and to use it to torture the most vulnerable. Adam Szymkowicz looks closely at high school cyber bullying in his new drama Rare Birds, produced by The Red Fern Theatre Company.
Nerdy birdwatcher, Evan Willis (Jake Glassman) is a “punching bag” for his schoolmate Dylan (George Colligan) and his sidekick Mike (Dylan Guerra). Bullies constantly pick on Evan’s songbird shirts, yet he refuses to wear “normal” clothes. “Normal”, is what Evan’s mother, Janet (Tracey Gilbert), wants him to be. By that she means sneaking liqueur out of her cabinet and smashing mailboxes with a baseball bat. She also wants him to like her new boyfriend, Ralph (Robert Buckwalter).
You might not like Evan Willis, but for different reasons. A downtrodden sixteen-year-old vents his confusion on his mom and behaves like a jerk towards her new boyfriend. Like a wounded bird in the box of his bedroom, he pecks a hand reached out to him, and agonizes trying to break out. Evan’s crush on Jenny (Joanna Fanizza) eventually makes him Dylan’s victim. We nervously wait for the rest of the show to see who will fire a gun introduced in the first scene.
The realistic “box” of Evan’s room (designed by Andrew Mannion), abundantly decorated with birds, is both a safe haven and a prison. Other sets, the school, the casino restaurant and the bad boys hang out, are marked with just a few singular elements. But the outside world is not that different from Evan’s. Kids and adults alike are dealing with their own fears, confusions, and misconceptions.
The moment when one reaches out to help the other starts a chain reaction of understanding. But before the patch of blue sky is seen, the director Scott Ebersold suffocates the audience with adolescent violence, humiliation, and neglect. However, Rare Birds is far from being black-and-white. The tight-fit cast takes us on a very real and emotional journey, where you sob one moment and laugh the next.
Rare Birds runs through April 9, Thursday - Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm with an added performance on Monday, April 3 at 7pm. The Theatre at the 14th Street Y is located at 344 East 14th Street. Tickets are $20, available at 212-352-3101 or www.redferntheatre.org.