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The Thrush and the Woodpecker

a Drama
by Steve Yockey

COMPANY : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 4808

SHOWING : October 31, 2015 - November 15, 2015



Brenda Hendriks tries to repair a fractured relationship with her son Noah, who has hastily returned home from college following an act of vandalism. When a mysterious visitor arrives at their remote Northern California home bearing dangerous secrets from Brenda’s past, the three find themselves on a collision course with betrayal and revenge. This white-knuckled thriller promises plot twists, gasps and the gripping theatricality you’ve come to expect from Steve Yockey.

Writer/Composer Steve Yockey
Director Melissa Foulger
Noah Hendriks Matthew Busch
Set Designer Kathryn Conley
Composer/Sound Designer Haddon Givens Kime
Brenda Hendriks Stacy Melich
Lighting Designer Ben Tilley
Roisin Danner Kathleen Wattis
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Not Fabulous; Fabulist
by playgoer
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
"The Thrush and the Woodpecker" by Steve Yockey starts out as a fairly standard domestic comic drama, with a mother (Stacy Melich) hounding her son (Matthew Busch) about his expulsion from college due to an act of vandalism. Then a visitor arrives (Kathleen Wattis Kettrey) and all laws of nature and logic are thrown to the winds. There’s a lot of hyper-dramatic action, along with some terrific acting, but it doesn’t all hang together particularly well. There’s a sudden shift after the visitor arrives, with not enough foreshadowing to let the audience know the tack things will take.

The act of vandalism performed by the son was to smash light bulbs from outdoor lighting on campus, due to its light pollution at night. Since the title refers to birds, I assumed there would be some connection to scientific studies showing that light pollution affects the nesting and reproduction of birds. Nope. Given the information later revealed about the son, I thought it might have been fitting to point out some connection to "being in the dark." But nope again. The son is studying astronomy and wanted to be able to see constellations. There’s a nice correlation to the stars remaining a constant in the son’s nomadic upbringing, but that’s about it.

The woodpecker of the title is the presumably extinct ivory-billed woodpecker, who has been resurrected by Mr. Yockey for his own fabulist purposes (complete with projected animations by Marisa Ginger Tontaveetong). The thrush gets short shrift, presumably chosen as a bird because a group of thrushes is called a "mutation," and isn’t that neato-keeno? The natural world in which the house of the action takes place doesn’t mesh well with reality. It all seems very artificial.

Kat Conley’s scenic design takes the bones of the "Blackberry Winter" set and adds standard living room furniture and a back wall with an outside door, a frosted window pane that doubles as a projection screen, and openings to other parts of the house. Ben Tilley’s lighting design uses the effect of morning light entering through a paned window, giving a strong dappled effect in some scenes that is just short of being distracting. Costumes, by Isabel & Moriah Curley-Clay, don’t have much impact. The repeated "Pluto" printed on the son’s T-shirt seems to act as a misfired joke, since it acts as a reminder of Yockey’s far-superior play "Pluto" from 2013 at Actor’s Express.

The acting is excellent, and director Melissa Foulger has staged the show to minimize the disadvantages of sightlines inherent in the thrust configuration of the stage. Haddon Kime’s sound design is generally effective, but the music signaling the start of the first animated projection sequence comes across as a bit heavy-handed. I tend to blame the construction of the play for this rather than Mr. Kime.

The situations of the play are artificial, as is the language of the dialogue. There’s a level of erudition in the mother’s speech that rings false. Mr. Yockey appears to be showing off his imagination rather than grounding his magical realism in a relatable construct. There’s a sketchiness and lack of resonance to the whole enterprise that makes "The Thrush and the Woodpecker" seem like something less than a finished work. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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