NoExit’s ‘Birds’ flock to Central State

By John Lyle Belden

We’re a long way from Bodega Bay. Members of NoExit Performance have speculated what happened in the years after the events of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” and crafted a theatre experience that tells a story from the animals’ point of view.

The bird uprising came at a time of nuclear conflict, leaving avians and humans alike struggling to scratch out a living in the resulting wasteland. Rapid evolution has given the birds speech, and the ability to think tactically and plan, but this leaves them struggling to hold on to their instincts. 

The Midwest flock has gathered at the former grounds of Central State in Indianapolis, where we, the audience, are the few humans allowed to witness their proceedings. The birds don’t trust us, and herd us (as we would them) from scene to scene in this unusual drama.

All are worried about their prospects for survival. Food is in short supply, eggshells are dangerously thin, and though there have been gains in the war against the humans, they come at a cost. Hadrian (Ronn Johnston) reluctantly carries the role of leader, as fellow raptors Antinious is dead and Ikarus (Dave Pelsue) is missing, assumed to be a traitor. His advisor Grebe (Becky Lee Meacham) tries to bouy his confidence, while fellow Council member Krone (Callie Burk-Hartz) has drastic plans of her own. 

Meanwhile, young Ave (Gaby Padilla) is the only one to whom the spirit bird Horus (a large shadow-puppet, likely a gull as it refers to the first attackers from the film) will speak. Inquisitive and empathetic, she is told she is the key to the future of all birdkind. This worries her sister Poly (Stephanie Wilson).

Also notable are worrisome Moa (Tracy Herring), presumptuous Asha (Audrey Stonerock) and war-party leader Apollo (Tristan Montgomery). Other members of the flock are played by Nicole Kelter, Katie Carter, Owen Harp, Jenny Allan, Ashley Youmell, Kimmie Icenogle, Katherine Boyles Ogawa, and Lesli Butler. Horus is presented by Tracy Herring, Wilson, Stonerock and Pelsue.

The story, written and directed by Ryan Mullins, has the feel of great Greek and Shakespearean dramas. But its presentation is restrained from full anthropomorphization. Just as cast members of the musical “Cats” have to go to “cat school,” so have the NoExit players apparently gone to “Bird School” — their movements are constantly birdlike, squawks and other bird cries are mixed in their speech, when idle they peck and scratch at their surroundings, and each player stays true to a particular species in its actions. They never break character, even during intermission. 

Makeup and loose costuming, designed by Kat Robinson, Traci Snider and Asha Patel, which involve fabric strips rather than feathers, aid their motion and suggest their form, letting the characters within hold our attention rather than be distracted by artificial beaks or other obvious bird-features.

Even more effective than their look is their sound, as the actors effectively emulate the fluttering, flapping noise that was so unnerving in the movie.

The play is set mostly outdoors, with the occasional real bird observing from the rooftops. Audience members are advised to bring lawn chairs — much of the play takes place in one area — but a limited number are available on site.

“The Birds” have a lot to teach us, and some hard lessons to learn. Performances run through Oct. 13 at the Power House on the grounds of Central State Village off West Washington Street. For information and tickets, visit noexitperformance.org

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IndyFringe: Generations

This show is part of the 15th Annual Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival, a/k/a IndyFringe, Aug. 15-25, 2019 on Mass Ave downtown. Info, etc., at www.IndyFringe.org.

By Wendy Carson

Some of our regular readers may remember that John saw last year’s show by Crossroads Dance and really loved it. While he admits he’s not a dance aficionado, he does like watching it but often has trouble understanding the meaning behind the moves. The company apparently took that to heart and has included some notes in the program to help with understanding the message they are provoking. That said, let’s get to the review.

The show is arranged as a trip through time, reminding us of the history behind our nation. It begins a beautiful balletic piece in which three nature spirits are gaily playing/creating the landscape of the continent. We then move to a suite in tribute to the settlers that tamed the land and made the verdant farmland that stretches throughout our country today.

It then turns to the twentieth century for highlights of various historic decades using songs from those periods.

My personal favorites were: “This One’s For Al” shows the desolation of the Great Depression but still keeps a touch of hope on the horizon. “Jive Bomber” intermixed inspirational wartime tunes of the ’40s with actual radio reports from the battles, showing the pain the nation felt inside, even while keeping up a positive front. However, being a child of the ’80s, I loved their tribute to the decade of neon spandex and big hair in, “MTV Live.”

Choreographers are Ashley Youmell, Brittany Gaither, and Nicole Dean for the pieces listed above, as well as Candace Reiner, Emily Miser, Sammi Bowyer, Josie Meiss, and Rachael Wieczorek.

So, whether you are just a casual fan of dance, or a lifelong devotee, this show will appeal to you. These ladies, while young, bring about an insightful evening of dance that will likely spark some great discussions afterwards.

Remaining performances are 6 p.m. Wednesday and 3 p.m. Saturday at the District Theatre (former TOTS location), 627 Massachusetts Ave.