For The Birds
A dream I had a few hours after the grand opening of Late Night Theatre’s The Birds at The Old Chelsea surrealistically summarized the troupe’s true meaning. Having been transported to some anonymous foreign land, I spied a beautiful grotto. It beckoned me closer until I saw that it was made not of mosaic tiles but of costume jewelry. This is Late Night: a classic form overlayed with kitsch.
Drawing from theatrical traditions as old as Sophocles yet as lurid as yesterday’s National Enquirer, Late Night has been recycling its greatest hits of late. Last winter, it brought back Valley of the Dolls with a switch: a real woman in the role of the harridan has-been Helen Lawson. No such estrogen is to be found in Late Night’s revival of The Birds. But with such artists as Ron Megee, billed as “playing Tippi Hedren playing Melanie Daniels”; Philip blue owl Hooser, as Alfred Hitchcock; and DeDe DeVille, as Suzanne Pleshette as crotchety schoolteacher Annie Hayworth, everything’s fine the way it is. Bodega Bay is swimming with kooks, and the audience gives its citizenry a deserved standing ovation.
Megee and Hooser are totally to blame for the fact that the film on which they base their homage can never be seen the same way again. The show opens with the ubiquitous Hitchcock cameo — the portly director walking two poodles — and then flies right into the pet store where Daniels and Mitch Brenner (John Paulsen) lock eyes and gonads. She buys a pair of lovebirds and drives up the Pacific Coast Highway thanks to one of several filmed bits projected behind the actors. In Bodega Bay, she meets Annie, Mitch, and Mitch’s family: his overprotective mother (Ray Ettinger) and his 11-year-old sister, continuously and erroneously called Pretty Cathy. Playing the Bird Boys, who manipulate the bird attacks and play the rest of the town’s population, are David Reed, Jon Piggy Cupit, Bob Kohler, and newcomer David Stone (a dead ringer for The Kids in the Hall‘s Bruce McCulloch).
One of the show’s many highlights is the sublimely staged diner scene, where Melanie’s conversation with an ornithologist (Reed) about the increasingly vicious birds scares a mother (Kohler) and her children (two dolls). It ends with a fireball outside the restaurant and yet another attack — the famous Tippi-in-the-phone-booth scene. You won’t believe how successfully Late Night pulls this off until you see it for yourself. It’s no less complicated than the helicopter scene from Miss Saigon — and funny to boot.
Megee says the cast was reupholstering the seats up until two hours before curtain, so there was little rehearsal the week before it opened — but the show doesn’t seem slapdash at all. As ad libs volley with scripted lines, the cast takes it all in stride. Characters laugh at their own and others’ jokes, as the cast of The Carol Burnett Show used to do, and it ratchets up the frivolity to a level no other theater in town consistently matches.
No one is credited with the set, but I suspect everybody had a hand in that as well. Georgianna Londre contributes vintage Chanel-like suits for Megee, while other wardrobe pieces (including Cupit’s fetishistic vinyl cop suit and Pretty Cathy’s day-of-the-week panties) come from catalogs and closets far and wide. The overall effect is camp of the highest pedigree.