Arts Listings

The Theater: ‘Bird in the Hand’ at Berkeley City Club

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Tuesday June 26, 2007

There’s a row of owls glaring down at the audience in the theater at the Berkeley City Club. And the program for Bird in the Hand, Anne Galjour’s new play, directed by Ellen Sebastian Chang for Central Works, lists the various parts played by the four players (including Ms. Galjour), as well as the bird calls they perform during the course of the action. 

Bird in the Hand is a wry milieu play, cutting back and forth, in and out of the lives of a bunch of San Franciscans touched by the fervor for birding. The various couples and stray, uncoupled characters, as well-performed by the author, Terry Lamb (with an impressive sense of characterization), Joel Mullenix and Central Works’ co-director, Jan Zvaifler, are an eccentric, even extravagant lot, as they come together and break apart in rhythms reminiscent of bird-song, hopping or skittering. 

But Galjour has another purpose as well, one that came to the fore since the original “little experiment” of the piece as “a convergence of monologues and playwriting in the form of duets” in 2001. 

After Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Galjour notes, “It affected my writing process. Where I grew up in southeastern Louisiana the culture and landscape is literally disappearing. It has heightened my concern for what is disappearing from the urban landscape in the Bay Area.” 

The play was developed as a collaborative process  

“I’ll never forget my first quail. I got hit in the head with a golfball! When I came to, I heard it,”one character says—and the appropriate calls often follow such lines, though the dramatis personae tend to express themselves more in dialogue, with an occasional monologue to another, listening character.  

“The mockingbird goes through its repertoire, sounds like a car alarm sometimes,” says another. All the alarums and diversions of existences enriched—or distorted—by the love of—the obsession for—birds, make up the comedy, which can turn simply poignant. A man alone in a house full of empty birdcages and photographs of wildlife talks about the death of his partner, an avid birder, to the neighbor whose husband deserted her and went on the road for the migratory tour. And the bereaved survivor isn’t a bird lover himself. 

After his partner’s death, he says he “opened the cages of finches and opened the windows ... [and] heard them try to get back in, crashing against the windows.” 

Another couple is fighting to stay in their place, the neighborhood association objecting to his pigeon-keeping. Yet another acts out a tale of near-captivity, with an exercise-minded boyfriend controlling his live-in displaced Louisianan woman-friend with rewards for her not eating ... all those dresses do more than feather the nest. 

Birders and their codependencies, the unglimpsed avian lives around us in the urban scheme of things, the mating and survival rituals of humans in their own endangered habitats ... unusual stuff to make a play of, but Galjour’s humorous and perceptive lines knit together the two worlds into a contemporary Bay Area version of The Bluebird of Happiness, Maeterlinck’s fin-de-siecle fantasy play about the search for the fowl that will make all fair. 

As in her narratives and solo performances, Galjour brings something different, a touch of sensibility, to the very bones of her dramaturgy, fleshed out in the Central Works style. It’s reflected in charming ways—like the most romantic (and therefore hopeful) line spoken, “Would you like to go owling in Glen Canyon?” 



Presented by Central Works at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and at 5 p.m. Sundays through July 29 at Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave. $9-$25.