‘The Green Bird’ at The National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts by Amanda Gunther

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Children are adventurous; whimsical and afraid of nothing. They find magic in a simple sewer hole cover or deep in the woods with just a little imagination. Direct from the mind of Doug Wilder, this new concept is applied to Carlo Gozzi’s commedia Del arte classic The Green Bird at The National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts. Presented by the Actors Repertory Theatre, this absurd twisted show brings in all the familiar characters of the commedia infused with modern humor and adaptations that will make you cock your head to the side and start bird-calling.

Renzo (Jose Pineda) and Barbarina (Taylor Ann Robinson). Photo by ‎James Ryan Videography and Photography.

Director Doug Wilder brings his inner-child out to play with his adaptation to Gozzi’s work, letting the little nuances of childhood flutter into the production. As the lighting, scenic and costume designer, each of the key components of the production are infused with Wilder’s childlike notions. The scenic storybook whose pages turn to illustrate scene changes looks like a giant coloring book; each illustration simplistic and colored with little bits of white shining through, as if a child had completed the artwork. The Green’s Bird’s costume is the same, an idealistic super-hero of sorts, in a bright green unitard with underwear on the outside; the vision of a mesmerized youth.

The production itself borders on absurd, Gozzi’s story involving magical realism wherein there is a special green bird who holds all the mythical answers to life’s problems, and the text, despite the modernizing in places, is a little diluted. But Wilder does his best to ensure entertainment to the audience with a new style of executing the show.

The opening, and several scenes throughout the show during periods of narration, is performed in flash-freeze frames. The actors are posed in a series of ‘action’ poses, many overly dramatic or farcical, and the lights are brought up on this freeze frame almost as if moving from pane to pane of a comic strip. This frozen animation approach adds an exciting, if strange, new element to the production and is good for a few laughs as various male actors are substituted in for females when they realize early on that they’ve “run out of actors.”

Queen Ninetta (Julia Nakamoto) and The Green Bird (Christopher Herring). Photo by ‎James Ryan Videography and Photography.

Several of the actors are featured as more than one character throughout the show, which isn’t as confusing as it would seem. Our story opens with Queen Ninetta (Julia Nakamoto) providing simple narration. Nakamoto is interrupted by Christopher Herring, who plays the title character, because her pacing is poor and boring him to tears. Funny interruptions like these give Wilder’s vision quirks and moments of deep amusement. Nakamoto is a talented actress, her shining moment being when she poses as ‘The Singing Tree.’ Deep in the lair of the snake monster her hypnotic and trance like singing and movements complete the dark and dangerous air of mystery which lays thick in that scene.

Nakamoto has a great scene with Herring, where he arrives as her salvation – bringing her food every day. The pair enact a grotesque version of mama bird regurgitating food to feed baby bird, both actors deeply physically involved in the moment. Herring, as The Green Bird, keeps his bird-like qualities high, strutting around the stage, moving with jarring angular patterns the way a startled bird might move. He also doubles up as the narrator; a great improvisationalist who goes with the flow, ad-libbing when pages of the story book begin to collapse.
King Tartaglia (Steven Soto) and The Green Bird (Christopher Herring). Photo by ‎James Ryan Videography and Photography.

The twins undergo the greatest transformation during the production. Starting out as selfless enlightened people Barbarina (Taylor Ann Robinson) and Renzo (Jose Pineda) grow into hideously vapid greedy narcissists who then evolve once more before the end of the show. Robinson has fantastic facial reactions, especially in the scene of the two balconies where Smeraldina (Cristen Stephansky) tries to keep her from flirting with King Tartaglia (Steven Soto). Robinson exchanges a series of crude flirtatious gestures with Soto, fully engaging her body and face to do so.

Soto also appears to us as the statue Calmon. As this statue Soto masters a series of Robot-dance- like moves and has a very calm and cool exterior which he displays with ease. His robotic dancing is second only to his physical prostrations of grief over losing his wife. Soto has great interactions with Truffaldino (Zach Brewster-Geisz) and manages to make his interactions with his awful mothe Tartagliona (Damia Torhagen) thoroughly painful.

Brewster-Geisz as they ever-hungry servant gives Truffaldino a new attitude, one that is more self-serving and less playful than one would imagine, but his comic gestures and well-timed zingers are still perfectly executed.

The Green Bird is filled with many laughs and zany characters, and makes for an amusing time in the theatre.

Running Time: Two hours with one intermission.

The Green Bird plays through June 16, 2012 at The National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts – 1556 Wisconsin Avenue, behind the church in Georgetown, in Washington DC. The performance is free but reservations are strongly suggested. You can make them by calling the theatre at (202) 333-2202 or sending an email to: conservatoryofdramaticarts@gmail.com.

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Watch a preview video of The Green Bird.

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