Bird's-eye view

A Murder of Crows

By Mac Wellmann
Directed by Pamela Butler
Nicu's Spoon
Belt Theatre, 336 W. 37th Street (; 212/868-4444)
Equity showcase (closes Nov. 23)
Review by Doug DeVita

The recent high winds that rocked New York City added an eerie but not inappropriately constant background to the Nicu's Spoon production of A Murder of Crows, directed by Pamela Butler. Mac Wellmann's abrasive yet poetic language was well served here, and if the evening never ignited into a venomous fireball of American dysfunction, neither did it crash and burn in the flames it did engender.

It started out well enough with a sensationally focused monolog performed by Barbara Kidd Calvano as a destitute widow with two children forced to live on the less-than-welcome charity of her brother and sister-in-law (well-played with oily, trashy charm by Reggie Barton and Elizabeth Bell). But despite the stellar performances, the production itself rarely rose above the pedestrian -- it seemed as if Butler were weighted down by Wellmann's very black comedic viewpoint and couldn't find her way out of the heavy fog that slowly but surely engulfed the proceedings. The production wasn't helped by the performance space either -- the spectacularly vertiginous sightlines of the Belt Theatre, which places the audience a level above the players, had the unfortunate affect of distancing the emotional intensity of what was happening below, so that by the end of a long-drawn-out evening very little resonated. The production values were average, with slightly better than average costuming. (Bare-bones set by Butler, spooky lighting by Natalie Robin and Steven Wolf, costumes by Butler and "et al.")

But the performances were all terrific. In addition to the wonderful Calvano, Barton, and Bell, they included a deeply felt interpretation of adolescent rage and confusion from Leah Smith, a performance of still, internalized rage from Gregg Mozgala as a recently returned vet from the Gulf War, and a ghostly evocation of shell-shocked rage from Bart Mallard, as Calvano's deceased husband. And then there Rainbow Geffner, Christopher Conant, and Brian Lee as the eponymous crows, observing everything while wearing beautifully crafted, but appropriately creepy sharp-beaked masks, and whose jazzily impromptu dance momentarily lifted the show to the sublime heights of absurdist heaven.

  Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2003 Doug DeVita