Bird Brain charms with good intentions

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      By Vern Thiessen, based on a story by Albert Wendt. Directed by Carole Higgins. A Carousel Theatre Company production. At the Waterfront Theatre on Saturday, February 12. Continues until February 27

      “I liked it, but I think the script has some plot-line issues.” I agree with the assessment of my 12-year-old companion; there’s lots of charm in Bird Brain, but the story hobbles itself with a combination of good intentions and deliberate conventions.

      In Bird Brain, Edmonton playwright Vern Thiessen’s adaptation of Albert Wendt’s story “Vogelkopf”, a poor man takes a nestful of orphaned baby birds under his hat to keep them warm one frigid winter. The law says that, if you meet another person, especially on Hat Street, you must remove your chapeau to greet them. Because the man refuses to do so, the Under Secretary fines him 100,000 ducats, labels him a fool, and dubs him Bird Brain.

      Exactly why Bird Brain won’t remove his hat isn’t clear. Yes, he’s afraid the birds will freeze to death. And Bird Brain says that he wants his lid to remain in place because keeping birds under his hat makes his mind clear. But, as my pragmatic date asked, “Why doesn’t he just take it off for a minute and put it back on?”

      Bird Brain’s lessons about celebrating kindness and eccentricity are laudable, but lots of stories arrive at meaningful morals while employing more credible internal logic, and a more intuitive, less illustrative approach. When Bird Brain falls in love with a woman, a wordsmith appears to give them a talisman: believe hammered out in metal. Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather not have a theme literally spelled out for me.

      Still, there’s plenty to like here. Thiessen explores his ideas with a gentle simplicity that makes the play accessible even to young children. And some of the play’s more sophisticated humour—including the feminism of the queen of the land—is pitched nicely to adults, but will still have meaning for kids.

      Playing the Queen and a handful of smaller roles, Naomi Wright deftly applies the understated and ironic sensibility that makes her one of the wittiest actors in town. The kids in the opening audience loved it when Josue Laboucane hammed it up as the Under Secretary, and much of what Laboucane does is inventive, but there’s no need to make such a slow meal of it. Gaelan Beatty is endearingly openhearted as the title character.

      With its bulbous, storybook trees, Heidi Wilkinson’s set is delightful, and Yulia Shtern’s costumes are lavishly textured.

      Bird Brain is intermittently pleasing, but not as satisfying as one might hope.



      Susie Moloney

      Feb 14, 2011 at 3:00pm

      Hi. Vern Thiessen doesn't live in Edmonton. He lives in New York. And he was born and raised in Winnipeg. He did live in Edmonton at one time, several years ago.

      9 4Rating: +5

      Vick Lane

      Feb 20, 2011 at 10:18pm
      You're both right: "He currently divides his time between Edmonton, AB and New York City."
      Isn't it grand when we can all get along?

      9 6Rating: +3

      Vern Thiessen

      Feb 25, 2011 at 8:53am

      Apparently, I need to update my website, as I don't really live in Edmonton anymore. But I did want to comment on Colin's piece. First off, it is so refreshing to see a reviewer of his stature going to a see a TYA play and writing an in-depth review. Its extremely rare. BIRD BRAIN has been performed all over the world, and many times in the US and Canada, but this is the first review of the play - ever (to my knowledge) in a major publication. Kids deserve excellent theatre as much as adults, and that work needs to be treated with the same respect that adult work is. And so I thank Colin for going to see the play. Of course, I don't buy the criticism of him and his young friend. One of the joys of Wendt's story is that we're not sure why he doesn't take off his hat. It's a joyful thing to believe in something irrational. Asking why Bird Brain doesn't take off his hat is like asking why Little Red doesn't just turn around, or why is the wolf talking or why the fox is eating gingerbread when foxes obviously don't eat gingerbread. The question is good - the answer should always be: I don't know. But isn't it more fun?

      6 5Rating: +1