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Tongue of a Bird 

The story of a desparate mother searching for her kidnapped daughters starts awkwardly, then takes flight.

Wednesday, Jul 11 2001
Watching Signal Theater Company's presentation of Ellen McLaughlin's production (directed by Cliff Mayotte) is like watching a bird learning to fly: The first unsteady steps take on surprising purpose as you watch it suddenly take flight. Twelve-year-old Charlotte (Sara Maria Hasbun) has been kidnapped and taken into the snowy woods. Her desperate mother, Dessa (Carolyn Doyle), hires a pilot, Maxine (Éowyn Mader), to find her. Maxine's search for Charlotte becomes a personal journey as she comes to terms with the death of her own mother (Dawn-Elin Fraser) and the story of her grandmother (a marvelous Patricia Silver), who immigrated from Poland to the U.S. Themes of loss, recovery, and the "perpetual presence" of a loved one's absence flit in and out of the play, which is set almost entirely on the wing of a plane with a background of distant, bare trees. This sparse, pale blue and white design (by Greg Dunham), which suggests vast space, takes on poignant meaning in the Phoenix Theater's cramped upstairs: Though Maxine has the freedom of flight, she is emotionally earthbound, unable to escape the haunting image of her mother, who appears, ghostlike, behind a scrim above the stage. Mader settles gracefully and effortlessly into the role of Maxine, easily carrying both the comic and the intense moments. Doyle takes a risk in playing Dessa with calm resignation: It's counter to the text, which suggests she should be more hysterical. It could also make audiences think she lacks energy -- that is, until she reaches a breaking point and unleashes an impassioned monologue. Fortunately, McLaughlin doesn't tell the whole story from the start; instead, she parses out bits of information about the characters until they have enough dimension (and coordination) to really take off.

About The Author

Karen McKevitt


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