Western Gold Theatre in association with Solo Collective Theatre
Red Birds by Aaron Bushkowsky

Dates and Venue November 2 – 18, 2018;Tues - Sat at 7:30pm, Sat and Sun plus Thurs November 15 at 2pm | PAL Studio Theatre, 581 Cardero St., Vancouver

Director Scott Bellis Producer Glen MacDonald Lighting Design John Webber Set Design Stehanie Wong Sound Design Ben Elliott Costume & Props Design Alaia Hamer Stage Manager Rebecca Mulvihill

Reviewer John Jane

Red Birds is the latest work from local playwright and UBC alumnus, Aaron Bushkowsky. It’s essentially a comedy centred around a dysfunctional family of three generations of women who just manage to stay above the poverty line. The play begins as a middle-age woman accompanied by her adult daughter and elderly mother stroll through a bird sanctuary looking for an elusive cardinal (the bird, not the Catholic ecclesiastic).

Carol (Frances Perras), apparently is somewhat of an amateur ornithologist, who just happens to be celebrating her fiftieth birthday at her favourite place in the world. When Red (Christina Jastrzembska), her adoptive mother gifts her with a birthday card that reveals the identity of her biological mother, it sets off uncertainty and confusion in her own sense of identity.

Carol’s first meeting with Hannah (Anna Hagan) is tense, with Hannah being emotionally distant and reluctant to show any affection. Things become more interesting when Derek (Gerry MacKay) arrives on the scene as Hannah’s fiancée, despite him being much closer to Carol’s age.

Director Scott Bellis deliberately keeps the focus shifting from one character to another, never allowing the pace to stall. Stephanie Wong’s functional set has to be versatile enough to represent a restaurant, Carol’s modest home, Hannah’s upscale condo and the woodlands. Ben Elliott’s sound effects of bird calls are an important aspect of the production.

Frances Perras turns in a nuanced performance as the flummoxed protagonist, occasionally, breaking down the forth wall to speak directly to the audience. Christina Jastrzembska is disarmingly quirky as Carol’s Polish immigrant Mom. Anna Hagan comes across as stiff as Hannah, though to be fair, her role is the most difficult. Gerry MacKay is gloriously irreverent as the charming gold-digger. Gili Roskies shows appropriate swagger in an exuberant, though at times uneven performance as Carol’s free-spirited daughter Ashley.

This was the first public performance of Bushkowsky’s Red Birds which he suggests is a companion piece to his earlier work, The Big Blue Bird. As it stands now, there is certainly room for improvement, particularly, with some of the dialogue. In Carol’s first encounter with Derek, it’s hard to believe that a mature woman would behave so facetiously.

The play doesn’t present a clear message, though it does allow the audience to draw their own conclusion as to its visceral impact.

© 2018 John Jane