The Dumb Waiter is only an hour long; the Exit fills out the evening with Victoria Station, a Pinter skit about a cab driver in London who seems lost not only in space but in time. The dispatcher wants him to pick up a well-paying fare at Victoria Station, but the driver stays parked near Crystal Palace Park, where he says he can see the actual palace, which burned in the Great Fire of London in 1936. He also has a woman in the back seat, sleeping, and claims he's fallen in love. Schumacher and Motta are just as good here -- accents and all -- in two English roles very different from Gus and Ben; the skit is tightly paced and all its funny lines land. But the core of the play feels just as insubstantial as The Dumb Waiter's, as if Pinter's mind and wit were engaged but his soul had gone on vacation.

-- Michael Scott Moore

Fowl Play
The Birds. By Aristophanes, adapted by John Glore and Culture Clash. Directed by Mark Rucker. Starring Culture Clash (Herbert Siguenza, Richard Montoya, and Ric Salinas) and Victor Mack. Presented by the Berkeley Repertory Theater, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck) in Berkeley, through April 25. Call (510) 845-4700.

It's too bad that everything in The Birds doesn't work as well as the costumes. Shigeru Yaji, costume designer to this adaptation of Aristophanes' fifth-century B.C. comedy, feathers his birds in a potluck of found objects. Athletic cups form beaks, toilet-seat covers flush out a flash of red breast, baseball pennants fill a wingspan, turkey basters and badminton shuttlecocks shape the plumes of birds in the chorus. This cultural bric-a-brac mirrors the slew of contemporary references that put the play in a modern context. One-liners about Princess Diana, Taco Bell, and Jenny Jones abound, but the wit is rarely as original as Yaji's costumes. A shower curtain is clever given new purpose as a messenger bird's wings, but a joke about El Nino is still just a joke about the weather.

So much of the play's original humor is of its time that the punch lines require footnotes, so the Willie Brown quips are necessary and justified. But the Berkeley Rep version stays faithful to the original script with its stock characters, the chorus (a rock band), and bad puns. The dystopia is moved from Athens to the East Bay. Dissatisfied buddies Foxx and Gato (neither of whom you'd want to guard your chicken coop) are certain there must be someplace better. Clever Foxx convinces the birds of the Earth to build a wall across the sky, separating the co-dependent humans and gods and allowing the birds to get rich as middlemen. The plan is to create a perfect republic, but as soon as the wall is finished, Foxx turns dictatorial and the humans start arriving. Foxx and Gato can't escape their social context of racial stereotypes, nasty government institutions, and Big Brother corporations. Indian grocers, Japanese tourists, real estate agents, and Starbucks cafes follow them to their new land.

Unfortunately, the adaptation waffles getting to this comic climax, plugging in useless character development and choral songs as filler. The history of Hoopoe, the human king cursed into birdness by the gods after he raped his sister-in-law and cut out her tongue, is missing in Aristophanes. Author John Glore writes the tale back in; it's a considerate nod to the rich history of the play, but too weighty for the comic mood. Hoopoe's costume says enough, with its sagging black and white balloons hung from his jumpsuit like sickly scrotum. The musical overture, playing as the audience enters, sounds like Bruce Willis' Return of Bruno textured with chick chirping. Several more marginal numbers are performed in an attempt to give the chorus of birds presence when all they need to be is part of the scenery. Again, the costumes have accomplished that.

After a half-hour of Sesame Street jingles, The Birds shifts into vaudevillian shtick and finally takes off. A Mexican border runner, Chunky, tries to pimp audience members off as cheap immigrant labor. John Lennon, Emilio Zapata, and Mother Teresa, members of a delegation sent by the gods, turn in a creditable Marx Brothers routine. The Birds is the latest project from the three-man Hispanic performance group that calls itself Culture Clash, and when the cultural stereotypes collide the show is funny and fast. Culture Clash tries hard to make light of racism, immigration, and the strip-malling of America as much as make a point about the issues. But The Birds isn't always clever enough to succeed. It's a good effort, but if the Berkeley Rep production was entered in competition, as Greek festival comedies were, it wouldn't do better than the rank given to the debut production of The Birds -- second place.

-- Julie Chase

The Green-Eyed Monster
Duty Free. Written and performed by David Mills. Directed by Danny Scheie. Video by Please Louise Productions. At Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (at 16th Street), March 5-15. Call 626-3311.

David Mills has a problem with our appetite for sensationalism. From the histrionics of the national TV news to the "underwear plays" of his fellow gay-theater artists, no one is left unscathed in his latest show, Duty Free. Mills builds the work around two dueling narratives: one, the realistic monologue about a bad love affair in San Francisco, the other, a Pynchon-esque tale about Helvetica Bold, a woman who becomes a national media idol when her dog dies of secondhand smoke.

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