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Theatre Review: Don't Miss "The Birds" at Cincinnati Shakespeare

Why don’t we see Sherman Fracher front and center on Cincinnati stages more often?
 
She’s given so many sublime performances over the 20 years I’ve been here, and lately she’s been relegated mostly to supporting roles – which she has always inhabited deeply, often making so much more of them than what’s been written.
 
The region has some outstanding actresses – Sherman Fracher is the one who’s unheralded.
 
Fracher gives another don’t miss performances in Cincinnati Shakespeare’s Halloween entry The Birds
 
If you know it at all, it’s probably from an Alfred Hitchcock film from about 50 years ago. Birds – little ones, big ones – start attacking the residents of a seaside town beak first. There’s lots of gore and a famous scene where they set upon the Hitchcock Blonde heroine.
 
This is so, so much better. Contemporary master of theatrical creepies Conor McPherson draws from the original short story by Daphne Du Maurier (I’d forgotten what a mistress of psychological suspense she was) as well as Hitchcock, and then he does something inspired. 
 
McPherson digs down into OUR psyches, the fear that’s so clearly humming right under the surface these days. Since the Great Recession, when so many felt the ground slide out from under them, our anxiety has been shooting up so that now we’re near-paralyzed by every new bit of news. We’re being invaded by terrorists, a zombie disease is going to get us, our livelihoods are gone. It’s the end of the world.
 
It might just be the end of the world in The Birds. Several scenes play out in the claustrophobic confines of a lake house. When the play opens, middle-aged Diane (Fracher) and thirtysomething Nat (Brent Vimtrup) are in the living room of a cottage far from any city. Something very strange and very bad is happening.
 
A voiceover entry from Diane’s journal sets the scene: “I met the man on the road. We’d both abandoned our cars...”
 
Attacked by birds, they’d found shelter in the house. Their clothes are both streaked with blood. The bird attacks follow the tide, and the birds fly in with a vengeance, shrieking, pitching themselves against the wooden shutters. 
 
“That night was the last broadcast I ever heard,” the voiceover tells us. Even with heavy, it’s clear that the bird attacks are everywhere. Will it ever stop? Is there somewhere safe? Will their refuge keep them alive? Will they run out of food as the attacks continue? Unknown.
 
Before long they are joined by appealing, young but enigmatic Julia (Sara Clark.) Triangles are always fun, especially when there’s nowhere to go. They tell each other secrets and don’t tell others. Trusts are broken. Much is unspoken.
 
Fracher has always had a powerful stage presence. Here she emanates an electrifying energy through every twist and turn as Diane goes into survival mode. Her performance is riveting -- theatrical art throughout.
 
Brian Isaac Phillips carefully builds tension through the one-act play. Vimtrup and Clark are core members of the company and they’re both consistently good but there seems to be a comfort level here rather than exploring new territory. There are strong echoes of many performances that have come before. 
 
Nick Rose comes to visit for one scene and matches Fracher’s energy with a crazy energy of his own as scary neighbor Tierney, who plants the idea that there as many dancers in the cottage as there are outside. It’s a stand-out scene.
 
Applause, too, to scenic designer Andrew Hungerford and sound designer Doug Borntrager for their well-played roles in messing with our heads. If you want stage tricks and treats for the Halloween – this is it.
 
The Birds, through Nov. Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, 719 Race St., Downtown Cincinnati. Tickets $32-$36 adults, $28-$32 seniors and $22-$26 students depending on weeknight or weekend performance. 513-381-2273 and here For more information: www.cincyshakes.com
 
Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts
 
Photo provided