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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Go see Hell in a Handbag's The Birds for a terrifyingly trippy, Tippi time



I love Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 horror classic, The Birds, which "introduced" us to actress Tippi Hedren in her official film debut (she made one previous movie as an uncredited extra). It's a suspenseful tale about birds violently attacking the town of Bodega Bay, California, and I've always considered it one of Hitchcock's best films. So when Chicago's Sweetback Productions first produced David Cerda and Pauline Pang's hilarious parody of the movie in 2001, I, of course, was there in a heartbeat and enjoyed every twisted moment of it. Now The Birds have returned to the Windy City in a new production by the Hell in a Handbag gang - and once again I was thoroughly entertained from beginning to end.

This offbeat adaptation is only partly a fun spoof of the film. What makes it even better - and gives its dark sense of humor a bit more depth - is the other half of the show, which follows Miss Hedren and the rest of the cast and crew during the making of The Birds. Also - to add even another unique layer to the story - is the appearance of author/social critic Camille Paglia, who wrote a 1998 analysis of the movie in which she described it as an ode to the many facets of female sexuality. In Handbag's Birds, Paglia becomes Hedren's therapist - helping her to deal with Hitchcock's possessive interest in her - as well as the lover of Bodega Bay school teacher Annie Hayworth. As you can see, there is quite a lot going on - and, oh, I almost forgot to mention the three musical numbers, which include Cerda and Scott Lamberty's original tune, "The Woman at the End of the Road" (a solo for Annie, who is also a cabaret singer). Songs, lesbians, killer birds - what more can one ask for in a show?


In addition to its wildly creative script, this production is also worth seeing for two other reasons - the first being its location at Chicago's Berger Park Coach House, which allows the audience a fabulous view of Bodega Bay (aka Lake Michigan) - and the actors a chance to perform outside during a few memorable scenes. The second reason is the outstanding cast that directors Jeffery Shields and Mr. Cerda have gathered together to bring The Birds to life, including Elizabeth Lesinski as Hitchcock's devoted assistant Peggy Robertson (who takes the "invited" audience to the movie set - their seats - at the beginning of the show), Margo Chervony as Camille Paglia, Steve Love as Trudy (a sassy makeup girl on the set), Michael John Lea as the film's leading man Rod Taylor and his character Mitch Brenner, the always amusing Alex Grelle as actress Veronica Cartwright and Mitch's kid sister Cathy, a deliciously delightful Ed Jones as actress Jessica Tandy and Mitch's smothering mother Lydia, and Mr. Cerda, who reprises his 2001 role as actress Suzanne Pleshette and her character Annie and steals every scene he is in. However, no production of The Birds would succeed without a terrific Tippi - and Catherine McCafferty is truly sublime as the leading lady of both the show and the movie. As for Mr. Hitchcock, he is a foreboding off-stage presence throughout, which works quite well.

One does not have to have seen the film to enjoy Hell in a Handbag's inspired version, but I would still recommend it because then you'll appreciate even more the show's detailed homage to the movie. Back in 1963, Hitchcock said The Birds could be the most terrifying motion picture he had ever made - and now 50 years later, this stage production will leave you screaming - with laughter - as our fine feathered friends descend yet again upon the jungle gym.

The Birds runs through September 15 at the Coach House at Berger Park (6205 N. Sheridan). For tickets, call 800-838-3006 or go to brownpapertickets.com. For further information on Hell in a Handbag Productions, visit handbagproductions.org. Also, the real Tippi Hedren will be the guest of honor for a special benefit performance on Saturday, September 7, featuring a pre-show cocktail reception and a post-show Q&A with the legendary actress.

Photos by Rick Aguilar.

2 comments:

Vera said...

Jeff Shields is a friend of mine. I wish I could pop up to Chicago to see it.

Marc said...

It's well worth a trip to the Windy City!