Marking the beginning of a more robust collaboration between Brooklyn College’s Theatre department and the playwriting arm of its English department comes the institution’s first full production of one of longtime playwriting professor Mac Wellman’s esteemed works, A Murder of Crows.
As for the play, the setting is surrealist rural American, the protagonist a young, angsty and perhaps unstable girl, Susannah (Callan McDermott), anxiously awaiting a punch-packing change in the weather—as it may just be the remedy for the bleakness of living with her comparatively wellish-to-do uncle and aunt since the passing of her not-so-dead dad. Boarding there with Susannah is her depressed yet sharp-tongued mother (sympathetically played by Keelie A. Sheridan), her golden sundial of a brother (Conor Sullivan) who’s spoken little since returning from the war, and not far from the property, the crows among whom the family’s former patriarch has lived since he, in fact, has not been deceased.
In addition to the dizzying premise, there are reasons to see this production, to like it:
- Likely due to some keen directorial insight of BC alum Meghan Finn’s, the action isn’t played pointedly for easy laughs, even given the extreme accents of the somewhat southerners portrayed. Rather performances are tempered for character truth, however unsightly those truths, and the play’s rich themes are better able to shine through as a result.
- The set design (Borrero-Fortier) is dashing, and aside from the sheer charm of the spectacle itself, the distressed and fractured wood structures, semi-circle of old tire stacks, and hanging, tattered umbrellas underscore the breakdown of societal and familial solidarity. As these set pieces nearly crowd the slickly though grimly lit theater (the doing of Cancel-Pomales), the space takes on an uncomfortable narrowness reflective of rancor and opposing mindsets where socioeconomic divides such as those wedged between the main characters are often found.
- The taut, non-musical-like musical/dance numbers are elegantly edgy, almost jittery, and accompanied by an otherworldly soundscape (Subervi) that quietly burns.
- Wellman’s play is a thoughtful meditation on class collision and spiritual disconnect as it can manifest in relationships even when there is the intention of bonding. When Susannah discovers that her wayward father, portrayed with apt preoccupation by Paul Ketchum, is alive, and that they share a passion for weather (or is it merely a yearning for some inevitable assuring change that just may carry with it the promise of violence and perceived ascension?), there is an undeniable understated detachment that exists between them.
- Timeliness abounds. Though the play was written some twenty years ago, it is remarkably relevant now in its not-didactic exploration of populations all dressed up with ennui, desperate anticipation and grasping with, alas, nowhere to go, or to be in the interim.
- So compelling is the existential and intricately costumed (Blumenauer) triplet of crows that one wishes to spend more time with them as they finally become vocal toward the play’s end. In keeping with the mystical tone Finn has set, these crows symbolize life’s magic, the mystery of creation, and there is an obscure optimism in the fact that they exist everyday amid this palpable wasteland. Their ominous presence throughout is a reminder that there is hope somewhere out there/here, for the most intellectually and spiritually downtrodden among us even, lest we opt to take on the lesser quality of crows and deceive ourselves into in- or more dubious action.
Brooklyn Center For The Performing Arts At Brooklyn College Presents: “A Murder of Crows” by Mac Wellman
Playing through April 29, 2013
New WorkShop Theater
2900 Campus Road, Brooklyn, NY 11210