The story is simple, the play is complex. It is the story of a female search and rescue pilot who is hired by a distraught mother to find her kidnapped 12-year-old daughter. Where it gets complex is the pilot is haunted by her own mother's image, and the image of a girl who might be the kidnap victim or might be the pilot's 12-year-old self.
The play is an actor's nightmare. It is monologue after monologue after monologue, with perhaps two actual conversations in the whole course of the play. Though there are only four locations: the plane cockpit, grandma's livingroom, the pilot's bedroom and the search and rescue canteen, the playwright is constantly switching between them, and cast members are used to rotate the small set (it's on a lazy Susan mounting) every few minutes.
It's very intense. We watch the mother, Dessa (Heidi Kobara) go from borderline frantic all the way to full-blown insanity as the search continues. Pilot Maxine (Kateri Rose) starts out as the self-assured rescue pilot and has her own series of emotional demons to fight, including the dream ghost of her mother (Kerry Michelle Smith) who committed suicide when Maxine was a child, and the ghost of the kidnapped girl - or maybe her own younger self (ably played by 14-year-old Leah Kolchinsky). The only one who is not going through a crisis is grandma Zofia (Sandy Pardini Cashmark) who escaped the Polish holocaust as a child and has been slightly insane and mostly unshakable ever since.
Highly emotional performances, the five actresses did the best that they could with largely incomprehensible, gargantuan blocks of lines. Understatement - this is like saying the Giants did the best that they could with last season.
The play is an attempt to explore mental illness caused by extreme pain and loss. The cast makes it succeed.
During the talk-back session, the cast and director echoed my concerns about the play's writing, and added that the transitions are awkward, and the playwright seemed to be going for high poetry rather than dialog.
One technical note: there were far too many light cues, and they happened too quickly.
Tongue of a Bird
Alma near University, Palo Alto
Free parking in the garage next door - do NOT go to CalTrain parking across the street if you can help it
Thurs-Sat 8 pm, Sun 2 pm Through June 19