Critic’s Choice: A man, a bird - and the winsome pair who play them - yield a useful message
24th Street Theatre, which specializes in productions designed to engage both children and their parents, is presenting the U.S. premiere of “Man Covets Bird” by the Australian playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer.
“Our logic is that if kids are introduced to cutting-edge theatre in childhood, then they’ll become theatregoers as adults,” explain the company’s directors, Jay McAdams and Debbie Devine, in the play’s program, adding: “If it bores adults, then it’s not good enough for kids either.”
Cross-generational appeal is a holy grail of the entertainment industry. Movies have found a remunerative strategy: adorable visuals that sweeten heavy themes (“Up”) or snarling cynicism (“Shrek”).
Theater for young audiences, in contrast, traditionally more cautious about tone, has a reputation for peppy blandness. The 24th Street Theatre’s production last year of “Walking the Tightrope,” a play for children about death, successfully challenged that cliche.
This follow-up, “Man Covets Bird,” also deals with loss, but on a more allegorical level. It’s never entirely clear whether the story of friendship between a man and a bird is meant to be taken literally or as a metaphor; there’s room for both interpretations, but some viewers may find the uncertainty coy or even irritating.
Los Angeles Times photographers document the year in arts and culture.(Los Angeles Times)
When the Mariinsky Ballet performed “Cinderella” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Oct. 8, even the wondrous Diana Vishneva as Cinderella couldn’t bring unity to the movement, but she danced with flawless, fearless authority. Read more >>(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins leaves a rehearsal of his play “Appropriate,” opening Oct. 4 at the Mark Taper Forum, to eat first with a reporter, then later with his agent and some unspecified Hollywood people, who presumably hope to lure him away from the field and city where he has experienced meteoric success in the last five years. Read more >>(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Kerstin Anderson takes charge of Maria von Trapp with a spirit so joyful, a physicality so lithe and coltish, and a soprano so flawlessly soaring that only Frau Schraeder, Capt. Von Trapp’s jilted fiancée (Teri Hansen), could possibly resist her charm. Read the Oct. 1 review >>(Los Angeles Times)
Soprano Abigail Fischer performs Oct. 7 in the opera “Songs from the Uproar” at REDCAT in Los Angeles.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Moisés Kaufman’s muscular revival of “Bent,” which played at the Mark Taper Forum, opening on July 26, renders what many had written off as a parochial drama about the persecution of homosexuals in Nazi Germany into a gripping tale of love, courage and identity. Read review >>(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Malaviki Sarukkai performing at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica on July 19, 2015. Sarukkai is the best-known exponent of South Indian classical dance.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Bramwell Tovey conducts the L.A. Phil with pianist Garrick Ohlsson in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 at the Hollywood Bowl on July 14, 2015.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Argentine dancer Herman Cornejo performs in the West Coast premiere of “Tango y Yo” as part of the Latin portion of BalletNow.(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
Jake Shears plays Greta in Martin Sherman’s play “Bent” at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles through Aug. 23, 2015.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Dancers rehearse a one-night-only performance choregraphed by Raiford Rogers, one of L.A.'s most-noted choreographers. This year the dance will be to a new original score by Czech composer Zbynek Mateju.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Oscar-winning actor Ben Kingsley in Los Angeles on July 9, 2015.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Mia Sinclair Jenness, left, Mabel Tyler and Gabby Gutierrez alternate playing the title role in the musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre. The three are shown during a day at Santa Monica Pier on June 16, 2015.(Christina House / For The Times)
American Contemporary Ballet Company members Zsolt Banki and Cleo Magill perform a dance routine originally done by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. This performance was presented as part of “Music + Dance: L.A.” on Friday, June 19, 2015.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Miguel, a Grammy-winning guitarist, producer, singer and lyricist, is photographed in San Pedro on Wednesday, June 10, 2015. His new album “Wildheart,” explores L.A.'s “weird mix of hope and desperation.”(Christina House / For The Times)
Los Angeles-born artist Mark Bradford is photographed in front of “The Next Hot Line.” This piece is part of his show “Scorched Earth,” installed at the Hammer Museum in Westwood, June 11, 2015.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
The Los Angeles Opera concluded its season with “The Marriage of Figaro,” with Roberto Tagliavini as Figaro and Pretty Yende as Susanna, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
“Trinket,” a monumental installation by Newark-born, Chicago-based artist William Pope.L, features an American flag that is 16 feet tall and 45 feet long. The work is on display at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA through June 28.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Alex Knox, from left, Carolyn Ratteray, Lynn Milgrim and Paige Lindsey White in “Pygmalion” in spring 2015 at the Pasadena Playhouse.(Mariah Tauger / For The Times)
On March 17, Google celebrated the addition of more than 5,000 images to its Google Street Art project with a launch party at the Container Yard in downtown Los Angeles.(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
Ric Salinas, left, Herbert Siguenza and Richard Montoya, of the three-man Latino theater group Culture Clash, brought their “Chavez Ravine: An L.A. Revival” to the Kirk Douglas Theatre to mark the group’s 30th anniversary. The play ran from Feb. 4 through March 1.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Andrew Huber plays the eponymous Man, who narrates his own story in the third person while acting it out. The original script has a cast of one, but director Debbie Devine has added a second performer, Leeav Sofer, who with the help of various instruments and charming cartoon video projections by Matthew G. Hill, takes on the role of the Bird.
Sofer also composed the haunting and jazzy music the two performers sing and play on keyboard, clarinet and guitar.
Huber exhibits a robust physicality as he leaps across the stage; Sofer moves with a pleasing economy, occasionally tilting his head in a subtly birdlike way.
The two are always working together on the minimal set on some task or another, moving ladders and video projectors, handing each other instruments, dancing, harmonizing. Their warm, efficient rapport as they create this made-up world is charming to watch. Their timing, as they interact with the videos and Cricket S. Myers’ characteristically nuanced and rich sound cues, feels effortless.
The Bird is not introduced until late in the proceedings, quite abruptly, after a long and ultimately irrelevant segment about the Man’s relationship with his parents.
The Bird’s character and motives remain sketchy even after he and the Man decide that they belong together. He spends the next eight years living in the Man’s coat pocket, singing to him, as the Man works in a factory apparently left over from the early days of the Industrial Revolution, where he pushes a single button over and over again -- a poet’s vague, horrified notion of work.
The same poetic imagination finds beauty in discarded receipts and abandoned ice-cream trucks, random-seeming imagery that can’t quite hold up the allegorical weight it is asked to bear. (Why eight years, for example?)
But if the characters feel underwritten and the fable occasionally strained and clunky despite the winsome performances, the play’s message is ultimately valuable:
Life proceeds in fits and starts, through long periods of tedium interrupted by mysterious change. Although a person may never feel as though he or she is on the right path, a courageous or generous act occasionally results in a moment of grace.
Not a bad thing to learn at any age.
“Man Covets Bird,” 24th Street Theatre, 1117 W. 24th St., Los Angeles. 3 and 7 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 22. $10-$24. (213) 745-6516 or www.24thstreet.org. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.
Your essential guide to the arts in L.A.
Get Carolina A. Miranda's weekly newsletter for what's happening, plus openings, critics' picks and more.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.