KPBS AIRDATE: October 27, 1993
(SOUND, under: crows)
Birds of a feather flock… into oddly-named assemblages. You’ve heard of a gaggle of geese, or an exaltation of larks. But have you ever seen “A Murder of Crows”? If you haven’t, you should. Besides being the group-name, it’s also a 1991 play by the linguistically-provocative, award-winning New York playwright Mac Wellman. Wellman, you may remember, is the one who gave us “Albanian Softshoe” at the San Diego Rep, and “Terminal Hip” at Sledgehammer, as well as that play that the newspapers won’t put in print, “Seven Blowjobs.” Now, “A Murder of Crows” is getting its San Diego premiere — in a suitably offbeat location.
Director/co-producer Darla Cash has staged the existential little piece on the tarmac at Brown Field. And she’s given it wings. It’s not quite clear why she had to go so far away for that desolate, no-man’s land feeling. But it works; the play soars.
There’s even a small plane taxi-ing around at the outset (for no apparent reason). But Cash makes wonderful use of the 200-by-400 foot space, as the fabulously outfitted chorus of crows (whom Cash costumed), beckons us forth to follow the action through the nine scenes… from a small front-porch platform, to a corrugated ‘frog pond’, to a huge black canoe-on-wheels that serves as a coffin, while two Caddies and a truck careen around us, and in one glorious moment, the crows dance between the two cars, eerily lit by their facing headlights.
It’s all wonderfully inventive and engaging, image-ripe and language-rich. And, as Wellman is wont to do, it takes on the Big Questions. Like God and Heaven and the Universe, all the while despairing of the grease-pit America has become, with its veneration of bucks, bigotry and bellicosity.
But in the center of it all is the cool, radiant visionary, Susannah, a young girl who feels a change in the weather coming. A “titanic,” cataclysmic change that only she, and her possibly-dead father, can sense. Certainly not her monstrous aunt and uncle, with their shopping bags full of dollar bills. Or her hand-wringing mother. Or her brother Andy, who turned into a gilded public monument after he came back from the Gulf War, where he found heaven in the cockpit of an F-14 over Baghdad.
For every ugly truth in the play, there’s a cynical-comical counterpart. Wellman is very funny, and, without going too much over the edge, Cash and her top-flight cast really get this baby off the ground. Doug Jacobs brings a delicious, cornpone brutishness to Uncle Howard, and Sandra Ellis-Troy plays his screamy wife to the hilt. Linda Castro stands out as a philosophical crow, and K.B. Merrill provides a calm, ingenuous center as Susannah.
It may be chilly down by the border, and it’s tough on the back standing for 75 minutes on the hard tarmac, but the play is thought-provoking and the production is invigorating, incandescent. Don’t miss it. It’s definitely not for the birds. (SOUND, under: Crows)
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1993 Patté Productions Inc.