Growing up is a tricky endeavor. The things you think you know shift and change rapidly, those you think love you disappear with the least provocation, and the whole learning process is incredibly difficult. Kate Mark's new, “impossible” play Bird House provides an interesting, fairy-talish way of examining the ups and downs of growing up. Every hour on the hour, two cuckoo birds pop out of their house to announce “kook” and “oo” to the delight of a youngish girl named Louisy. Her companion, Syl, is less impressed with the coming and going of the two birds. The two girls live in a tree house on the Bright Side. They live happily until an army of ants marches in and explains to Syl that they have come from the Lop Side, where there is war and suffering. Syl becomes filled with a sense of action and decides to dig a hole through to the Lop Side in order to help the ones suffering over there, leaving Louisy alone in the tree house.
Over on the Lop Side, Syl meets a little girl named Myra (played with joy and gusto by Kylie Liya Goldstein) who marches around on paint can stilts and calls herself a “Sarge Ant.” Meanwhile, a woman enters the tree house and thinks Louisy is her long lost Myra, a role which Louisy gladly accepts, at least for the time being. The two girls ultimately learn a lesson from their time apart and emerge from the experience changed.
Bird House is full of stunning imagery. The cuckoo birds fly the coop, somehow manage to end up in Syl's stomach and then fly out of her mouth. The silhouette of a rocking chair trapped in a tree is projected on a screen on the Lop Side.
The puppetry is clever—a large ant marches into the tree house, followed by a line of smaller ants. The wind carries an ax and a teapot across the stage. Birds slam into the windows of the tree house. The cast is very energetic and accurately conveys the innocence (or experience as need be) and growing pains of their characters.
Although it is highly theatrical and a visual treat, the story of Bird House suffers a bit. Many things are left unexplained, and seem to be there simply so that a bit of tricky puppetry can be performed. Older versions of Syl and Louisy are projected onto a wide tree trunk. It is difficult to understand why they are there and what they are saying. The characters are so exaggerated in terms of bravado or child-likeness that it is hard to empathize with them. Occasionally, their motivations are unclear and confusing.
Marks has a lot of great ideas floating about in Bird House, they just need to be given more definition in certain instances. Ultimately, the show is fun to watch for its visual tricks and the energy of its cast. However, it would be truly delightful and enjoyable if the audience was left with the sense that those tricks actually were headed somewhere.