november 2018 | Volume 173
Anna Hagan and Gerry MacKay. Photo credit: Javier Sotres.
The central character in Aaron Bushkowsky's new comedy, Red Birds, faces a dual trauma. Carol is uncomfortably turning 50 and about to meet the birth mother she has never known. Her life will be made even more complicated by the only man in this play about three generations of women.
Bushkowsky has a terrific ear for laugh lines and he rolls them out at regular intervals, sitcom-style. He balances the jokes with his portrait of a woman beset by a variety of circumstances that force her to question her identity, though dramatic depths are barely plumbed in this Western Gold/Solo Collective Theatre co-production.
The play’s exploration of aging doesn't ring entirely true, nor does one character that both Bushkowsky and director Scott Bellis should have significantly tweaked. But the comedy survives its perils.
Lithely shifting from comic to dramatic mode and back, France Perras plays bewildered Carol, a not very successful artist who photographs birds and shares her home with her adult daughter Ashley and mother, Red.
Red (Christina Jastrzembska) adopted Carol as a baby and loves her lots but is never sentimental. Jastrzembska carries the comedy in the first act with her self-conscious Red-isms ("My heart pounds like a big empty garbage can"), mischievous delivery and rich Polish accent.
Ashley (Gili Roskies) is a brat who drinks too much and, like her mother, has trouble with men. At 30, she still lives at home while trying to be an actor. (Q: "Is auditioning fun?" A: "Like pins in your eyes.") She upsets Carol by announcing that she'll have an in vitro pregnancy, though that plot goes nowhere. Later, Ashley plays the adult when Carol finds herself in ethical quicksand.
Superficially thrown by the age spots and bifocals that come with her epic birthday, Carol is really shaken when Red sends her to meet her birth mother. Hannah (Anna Hagan), a successful lawyer, is one serious prune. She greets the daughter she abandoned at birth with a handshake and the welcome, "Nice to make your acquaintance."
Lonely Hannah, scion of a wealthy family, may well be uptight, self-protective, reticent and lawyerly. But does she need to be written so flatly and played with such deliberation? She does tell Carol something about her father. Carol: "Who was he?" Hannah: "An asshole."
Hannah's unlikely fiancé Derek (very funny Gerry MacKay) becomes the second act catalyst who saves the comic day. Simultaneously self-aggrandizing and self-deprecating, Derek is blunt-spoken ("Thailand was great even though I had some problems with my butt") and unintentionally theatrical. In Hannah's words, "He leaves every room like it's the last room he'll ever leave."
But is loveable Derek a cad? Is he using Hannah for her money? Is he having sex with another woman?
These do not prove to be deep mysteries. The answers are revealed long before the sweet ending, which sees the four women in delicate equilibrium, watching the colourful birds that give the play its title.
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