“A Mouthful of Birds” Premieres at Brehmer

Kristen Friberger

This weekend the narratives of Caryl Churchill and David Lan’s “A Mouthful of Birds” acted as a commentary on “possession, madness and female violence.” Based on Euripides’s “The Bacchae,” the play opens with a monologue by Dionysus, played by sophomore Tanner Holley, who has come onto the scene to possess the city’s women. 

The aftermath of the God of wine, merrymaking and ecstasy’s decision plays out in a series of vignettes made emotionally jarring under the direction of Professor of English and Director of the University Theater Adrian Giurgea. Sharp lighting cuts emphasized the opening of each scene as characters stepped up to microphones at the front of the stage to introduce their individual stories. 

In the context of such a disjointed narrative, the challenge for the actors would be to make sense of how the stories linked together and to convey the message of the show to the audience. 

“It was experimental in that we went in a lot of different directions,” sophomore actress Monica Hoh said when asked to shed light on this experience. We experimented with different ways to portray our characters and how to put together a character from the limited and choppy text that existed only on paper.” 

Sophomore Allison Spanyer and senior Juliana Reider were paired together for a sequence in which a schizophrenic woman speaks to the voice within her head about drowning her child. Reider, dressed in all black with shaving cream obscuring her face, drove Spanyer mad with echoing lines until the deed was done. In another scene, in which a character explores the concept of being intersex, sophomore Charlotte Arbogast and senior Evan Tomlinson-Weintraub joined forces with a monologue performed first by one and then the other. Only after the monologue was delivered for the second time did the two performers come together in an accepting embrace. 

Such explorations of the fluidity of identity and sexuality would be punctuated by visceral imagery. After all of the characters are introduced for the first time, each actor stepped up to the front of the stage. Creating a mask of shaving cream obscuring their faces, a series of “excuses” pertaining to each of their individual worlds attacked the audience in a symphony of spoken sound. Continuing the story of a businessman who has fallen in love with a pig – played by senior Ben Mandell – the actors come on stage in pig masks, falling prey to their own hedonistic desires and attempt to “kill the god” Dionysus. During the slaughterhouse sequence, 14 watermelons were smashed on stage each night, attacking the audience’s senses with a visual mess and a sickly-sweet smell. 

Whether or not the content of each scene was explicitly clear, the play provided the viewer with much food for thought. As it came to a close, a screen dropped down, showing a single face aging from birth to death. Thinking back on the play through the lens of this visual, one is forced to question identity and the ways in which all people are different, but connected by the same themes and the passage of time in life. 

“A Mouthful of Birds” also featured sophomores Anastassia Bougakova, Jungmin Kang and Sasha Chen, juniors Grant Rieger, Ned Mobus, Joshua Paul and senior Brenda Zavala.  

Contact Kristen Friberger at [email protected].