Playwright Brighde Mullins bends the basis of nature versus nurture in her new play Rare Bird. Having no apparent ties to Utah, Mullins, a graduate of Yale University and a professor at University of Southern California, granted the world premiere production of Rare Bird to the University of Utah Department of Theatre. (A commissioned workshop of her play POETRY: A Play, about Phillis Wheatley, the first African American to publish a book of poetry, was recently awarded to Pioneer Theatre Company’s New Play Initiative.)
The question most pondered in Mullins’ metaphorical tryst with the audience is “who is the rare bird?” or, more appropriately, “who or what is the rarest bird?”
Set in Las Vegas, the days since the rise of the New York, New York and the fall of the Twin Towers, two women on opposite sides of the generation gap pull together, filling respective needs once lost. Harriet, a naive former showgirl who chirps to her own tune, finds herself financially strained in her golden years and seeks out the aide of a financial consultant, Phoebe, who too is strained from a love lost and an ongoing battle with booze.
An eccentric ornithologist, Professor Kroodsma, with wild plumage and harboring deeper connection to animals than to human beings, sets his binoculars on Phoebe; the imagery Kroodsma pontificates on stage, in a wildly awkward seduction, is sweet as it is creepy.
Utah stage gem, Anne Cullimore Decker, relishes as the iconic showgirl, Harriet, who’s past her prime as a dancer but carries a parrot’s gait a 100 years long. Tracie Merrill is capable as the smallish Phoebe, overshadowed by her own life, and weathers a backbone as fragile as a bird’s leg. And Tobin Atkinson as the nutty professor, lectures with a tongue as swift as a hummingbird’s wingbeat, and entertains on pre-Community Chevy Chase caliber.
Like that of a small Tyrant Flycatcher, perched on a limb craving satisfaction, I was seeking out brightness and grandeur like that of the Las Vegas strip; what I experienced instead was a poetic cross-journey of three unlikely friends and how each person’s unique song should be heard, and felt, entirely before the last note disappears forever.
Rare Bird ends this Sunday, March 18. Tickets (proceeds go to scholarship funds) are $7.50-20, 801-581-7100 or kingtix.com.