Dateline- Kitchen Dog Theater’s production of The Thrush and the Woodpecker by Steve Yockey is a rolling world premiere of a National New Play Network play that KDT presents in repertory with another Yockey play, Blackberry Winter. Same playwright, same place (Undermain Theatre), same designers but different actors, different director. This time it’s Jonathon Taylor at the helm.
All of these pieces may explain why the show is so puzzling.
On a homey set courtesy of Scott Osborne, Kristin McCollum sits as Brenda Hendricks enjoying her beverage, coffee-commercial style. Carson Wright enters as Noah Hendricks with the clear need of his own beverage redemption; he doesn’t get it. His mother has engineered her a.m. ambush to put her at a liquid advantage. It’s not a fair fight.
Or a fight at all, really.
What ensues is a scene where with two people trying to convince the other how little they are concerned about what the other is so concerned about. For him it is her love life, for her it’s his recent dismissal from college for vandalism. Mothers and sons, right?
The pieces don’t fit together and it’s hard to tell if director Taylor let the actors off the hook or the actors didn’t click with the roles. Or, is it that playwright Yockey has something up his sleeve? In any case, this blasé badinage doesn’t seem like a conventional mother/son reckoning. The tone shifts radically when McCollum leaves and Diane Worman enters as Róisín Danner.
The air begins to crackle as the play goes from Neil Simon to Neil LaBute, from “Who cares?” to “Who’s next?” In what’s sure to be a performance of the year, Worman brings a predatory charm onstage. Though she drives the change, it isn’t clear that all of the credit belongs to her. It’s almost as if playwright Yockey has segued into a different manuscript that borrows from movies like The Birds and Cape Fear. Not only is your past against you, nature is as well.
Sound designer John M. Flores has lots to do creating the rustic atmosphere of this secluded cabin and it’s avian neighbors. In the climactic moments of the play, lighting designer Suzanne Lavender joins in on the fun as well and they take full advantage of the juxtaposition of Osborne’s other set for this Yockey repertory. And like the other show, David Goodwin’s projections step in to illustrate the more supernatural aspect as a sort of backdrop backstory. They aren’t narrated here in the same way, but the nagging juxtaposition of recorded media versus live performance remains.
It’s a puzzling play of pieces. From the campy Cameron Cobb-designed catfight to Noah’s post-deus ex machina coda, the chunks are satisfying despite their trope origins. It’s just hard to assemble the puzzle without the picture on the box.
Or isn’t there one?