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The Bird

Two kids go on a mythical journey to find out what happiness is all about

Lauren Wiggs and Dana Orange aren't looking for trouble but it finds them all the same.

By Rebecca Fishbein | Posted 5/27/2010

The Bird

Adapted by Randolph Smith from Maurice Maeterlinck's "The Blue Bird"

Through May 30 at Arena Players

Happiness has never been an easy thing to cage. Most spend the better part of their lives seeking it out, hoping to capture and keep it stored among their closest personal possessions, only to fail. This unending quest for happiness is explored in the Bird, adapted by director Randolph Smith from the 1908 play The Blue Bird by Maurice Maeterlinck and performed by the Arena Players.

The play opens in Druid Hill Park on Christmas Eve. Inner-city siblings Tyler (Dana Orange) and Maya (Lauren Wiggs) have run away from their mother, who has grounded them. An impromptu earthquake plummets the children into a fantastical “invisible” dimension where they meet Light (Tracie Jiggetts), an ethereal being who gives them special glasses that allow them to see the world through new, unbiased eyes, and sends the duo on a mission to find the elusive Blue Bird.

Accompanied by Tylo (Eric Solomon), a steadfast dog, and Tylette (Candace Moore), a sly cat, Tyler and Mya brave the terrifying mysteries of life, guarded by Night (Vanessa Stewart). They face a deceiving group of people called the Luxuries--the Luxury of Being Rich (Ben Presbury) and the Luxury of Eating When Not Hungry (Thomas Day). They also travel to the Kingdom of the Future, where they meet impatient unborn Blue Children (Delante Desouza, LaTonya Truesdale, Tynesha Haden, and Day) and Father Time (Presbury). All the while, the two children learn about the fleeting nature of happiness and the importance of appreciating the good things they have in the real world.

Smith’s adaptation retains a fair amount from the original play, while simultaneously bringing in elements that ground the characters and plot in a contemporary Baltimore setting. In Maeterlinck’s script, the children are particularly concerned with their family’s poverty in relation to the relative wealth that surrounds them, while Smith’s play focuses instead on familial tension, as Tyler and Maya are faced with an absentee father and an overworked, overbearing mother.

For the most part, the combination of old-world fairy tale and modern locale work well togetherr, though there are moments in which the children’s dialogue, which closely mirrors that of the early 20th-century original and lacks colloquialism and present-day diction, sounds forced and unnatural. The most successful moments are those in which the characters shed their old-fashioned prose and tackle current issues--a scene in which Tyler pokes fun at BGE’s high gas prices, for instance, goes over huge.

The issues unpacked in the play are universal and pertinent today. The children must avoid the dangers of relying on overindulging on food and financial wealth. Moments in which they learn to embrace small pleasures, like the happiness of general well-being and the richness of a mother’s love, are poignant and rife with truth.

The play’s message is particularly well presented through the honest performances given by the two young leads. Orange and Wiggs, along with Solomon and Moore, are high school students and a part of Youtheatre, a program offered to young actors through the Arena Players, the nation’s oldest constant-operating African-American regional theater. All four show promising talent and strength onstage. Orange and Wiggs are touching as the terrified, determined siblings, alternately clinging to each other and taking charge as they face each new challenge. Solomon’s dog offers solid comedic reprieves. and Moore is outstanding as the slinky, sneaky cat. Though Jiggetts and Stewart give fine performances, and Arena Players veteran Presbury is excellent in dual roles as Father Time and the Luxury of Being Rich, the adult actors serve more as support for the younger ones, who are, without a doubt, the show’s stars.

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