Joel Singer

at 10:36 on 7th Aug 2012

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Intelligent acting and great chemistry between the actors manages to provide an intense and gripping drama concerning life in the Dust Bowl of Depression-era America. The blend of naturalistic acting and use of multimedia is innovative and although there were occasional questionable directorial choices, this is still a very impressive show. I feel however that this production should be accompanied by a warning that, while brilliant, this is an incredibly morbid and unforgiving story that can seem rather overpowering.

The direction was simple yet intuitive and, while making the most of the space available, took a back seat, permitting the actors to display their talent and to present a very watchable and gripping drama. The simplistic set was manipulated well and while the whole play was restricted to the family household, there was never a feeling of wanting this to change. Although the period setting is essential to the piece, the focus is instead on the day-to-day and intra-familial tension and drama. This makes it much more akin to 'Death of a Salesman' than a Steinbeckian depiction of the time and with the use of multimedia (a screen used to show images of the conditions survived), this play is given an innovative and original flourish.

Although this piece is slow-moving by nature, reflecting the tedium of the characters’ lives, I felt that the performance seemed to drag on even more than necessary and with a little editing, this could have been easily been prevented. The acting was, for the most part, a highlight of the show but at times there were moments of inappropriate melodrama and at others, rather shocking lines were delivered in an unsuited tone, as one character asks in a nonchalant voice “How did your baby die?” As you can probably tell from this quote, the play is by no means a light-hearted watch and is in fact quite an unforgiving hour and a half.

The acting was usually fantastically realistic and downplayed, creating an immediately immersive experience. Although all the cast were great, a special mention must be reserved for the patriarch of the family (Jeremiah Johnson), who was stole the show with a physically powerful and talented performance, giving a very watchable stage presence to the domineering father.

The ending of the piece is slightly disappointing, as it feels all too abrupt - the cast seem to have been building towards a greater climax that was offered. Yet the subject matter is engaging and definitely worth seeing, especially if you have any interest in this time period.

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Oliver Arnoldi

at 11:48 on 7th Aug 2012

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9.15 is an early start for any play, but when it involves a Steinbeckian observation of a farm in the Texas Panhandle during the Dust Bowl of the mid-1930s, most would rather still be in bed. Not because it is dull, but because no one wants to be thinking about death and depravity when they should be consuming tea and toast. Despite the time, by the end of ‘Birds on a Wire’ it is clear that Hardin-Simmons University Theatre prevails in its effort to express writer Shauna Kanter’s anxieties about one of America’s greatest natural disasters.

As much as this is a play about a specific period in modern America, it is equally about the more general effect that poverty has on loyalty within a family unit. “I’m drunk on the winds of possibility coming our way” exclaims Shimon Rositzky, conveying a delusion that ironically is only fully realised by the time symbolic rain begins to fall towards the end of the play. The Rositzky Farm, of which the audience observes the kitchen table, is a family of grafters, with patriarch Itzak (played superbly by Jeremiah Johnson) being a man who has had to fight for his right to survive; his allusions of fleeing from Tsarist Russia whilst speaking to his sons Harlen Lane (Samuel Cress) and Shimon (Ryan McBride) exemplifies both an undeniable strength as well as a future heightening of the tragic nature of the narrative. It is with these mixed emotions that the audience perceives the conversations, habits and foibles of this Texan family. To outline a plot would do a disservice to the quality of Kanter’s script, but it is through how the dialogue is so naturally rendered that it succeeds as a piece of drama.

It is a joy to watch the chemistry of the five-piece ensemble, who have the ability to move the audience in such simplistic ways; through a look across the table at dinner or their body language as they retire for bed, all five actors have an intrinsic role in creating a production that is as naturalistic as possible. Praise should go to Danielle Noble and Kelsey Prestidge for providing some stunning costumes, as well as to the scene shop for the choice to create a set that is as minimalist as possible.

It is clear that ‘Birds on a Wire’ is a winner from the off; a genuinely affecting piece of theatre, that is made all the stronger for being so simple.

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