Even acknowledging the fame of Daphne du Maurier, it’s safe to say that her 1952 short story “The Birds” probably wouldn’t be remembered if not for the 1963 Alfred Hitchcock film version. So there’s something almost perverse in playwright Conor McPherson’s adaptation — now receiving its local premiere with 12 Peers Theater — which references the story, but becomes something neither du Maurier or Hitchcock would recognize.
In case you don’t know, The Birds is about, well, birds joining together and attacking humans. (McNugget revenge?) The du Maurier original is set on a farm in Cornwall, England, and it is about a man protecting his family from the gathering menace. In the Hitchcock version, it’s Bodega Bay, Calif., that’s besieged when a socialite — poor Tippi Hedren — starts romancing the local Most Eligible Bachelor.
In McPherson’s 2009 adaptation, the attacks have been going on for some time and humanity is on its last legs. The play is set in a country house where two strangers, Nat and Diane, take refuge. He’s got a dark past, she does too, and, in an odd way, this coda of existence suits each for various reasons.
Before you can say “Hell is other people,” however, in flits Julia with “here comes trouble” practically wreathing her head in neon. McPherson’s Birds isn’t about the avian attacks; rather, it’s a “last three people on the planet” story about love and jealousy. It’s his choice, certainly, but since the birds are completely unnecessary, and he could have used any cataclysm to set things off, it’s curious he’d needlessly invite unflattering comparisons.
The 12 Peers production features a very handsome set by Hank Bullington, moodily lit by Andrew David Ostrowski and featuring Angela Baughman’s expressive sound design. Vince Ventura directs a strong three-person cast; Nick Mitchell is all damage and need as the apex of the love triangle; Sara Ashley Fisher’s Julia is wonderfully self-absorbed and self-absolving; and Gayle Pazerski keeps the character Diane hidden from us (and from the character herself) through most of this intermissionless work. Her performance is beguiling and her ability to hold us in the story gives this somewhat clichéd script much-needed depth.