Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It

Tongue of a Bird 

The story of a desparate mother searching for her kidnapped daughters starts awkwardly, then takes flight.

Wednesday, Jul 11 2001
Watching Signal Theater Company's presentation of Ellen McLaughlin's production (directed by Cliff Mayotte) is like watching a bird learning to fly: The first unsteady steps take on surprising purpose as you watch it suddenly take flight. Twelve-year-old Charlotte (Sara Maria Hasbun) has been kidnapped and taken into the snowy woods. Her desperate mother, Dessa (Carolyn Doyle), hires a pilot, Maxine (Éowyn Mader), to find her. Maxine's search for Charlotte becomes a personal journey as she comes to terms with the death of her own mother (Dawn-Elin Fraser) and the story of her grandmother (a marvelous Patricia Silver), who immigrated from Poland to the U.S. Themes of loss, recovery, and the "perpetual presence" of a loved one's absence flit in and out of the play, which is set almost entirely on the wing of a plane with a background of distant, bare trees. This sparse, pale blue and white design (by Greg Dunham), which suggests vast space, takes on poignant meaning in the Phoenix Theater's cramped upstairs: Though Maxine has the freedom of flight, she is emotionally earthbound, unable to escape the haunting image of her mother, who appears, ghostlike, behind a scrim above the stage. Mader settles gracefully and effortlessly into the role of Maxine, easily carrying both the comic and the intense moments. Doyle takes a risk in playing Dessa with calm resignation: It's counter to the text, which suggests she should be more hysterical. It could also make audiences think she lacks energy -- that is, until she reaches a breaking point and unleashes an impassioned monologue. Fortunately, McLaughlin doesn't tell the whole story from the start; instead, she parses out bits of information about the characters until they have enough dimension (and coordination) to really take off.

About The Author

Karen McKevitt


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment


  • U2 @ SAP Center in San Jose
    Last night U2 performed the first U.S. date of it’s Innocence + Experience tour at SAP Center in San Jose. All four band members were present despite recent injuries sustained by both Bono and Edge. The sold out show took audience members on a walk down memory lane as the band revisited their roots. The innovative stage and lighting used gave the arena show an intimate feel, and engaged audience members in all sections of the venue. Photographs by Sugarwolf.
  • Bay to Breakers 2015 - NSFW
    The 103rd annual Bay to Breakers 12K race was packed on Sunday despite the cold weather. With a starting point a few blocks from The Embarcadero, people dressed as bananas, Elvis and everything in between ran west through the city and finished at the Great Highway where breakers crash onto Ocean Beach.

    Photographs by Christopher Victorio.

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed