36° Good Afternoon
36° Good Afternoon

Birdwatching Through Life

Hats off to Arena Players for an exciting showcase of local

writing talent: the world premiere of "Cowbirds" by D.T. Arcieri at the

company's Second Stage Theatre. Blue Point resident Arcieri is clearly a

playwright to be reckoned with.

His drama about a 20-something ornithologist named Tommy features bold

primary colors, but is also richly layered. Tommy takes care of a sickly,

recently blind, over-medicated mother. His alcoholic sister, Candy, a sometime

topless dancer, lives in the next town. He wants to go back to grad school and

needs his irresponsible sibling to take some responsibility for the difficult

elderly woman.

The play opens with Tommy giving a precise, low-key lecture about the

characteristics of the cardinal. In the course of the play, we study other

species, including the cowbird. Tommy tells us the cowbird doesn't make its own

nest, but deposits its eggs in the nests of other birds.

It won't take playgoers too long to figure out the obvious symbolism of the

title, but it's completely organic. The bird imagery - heightened by the

pristine birdcalls we hear intermittently throughout the evening - flows right

from situation and character. Arcieri's dialogue sings almost as piercingly as

the chanting birds.

With mostly short scenes, sparely staged, the play jumps around among its

three main characters in various groupings and solos. At times they talk to us

directly, especially Tommy. "Cowbirds" has its own sleek style, and

theatricality is the wind beneath its wings.

It also displays an excellent sense of humor - as when Candy tells of her

failed career as a supermarket checker - but I wouldn't call it a comedy.

The playwright is well served by the cast at Arena. There's nothing

tentative about Jon French's attack on Tommy, although he certainly captures

the character's tentativeness - so much a part of who Tommy is. He anchors the

play with subtlety and grace. Annette Triquere is acerbic, often hilariously

so, as his cantankerous mother, squawking out orders and taunts at her

scholarly son.

And Sarah Moore is a trashy delight as vodka- swilling Candy, who has, as

her mom repeatedly says, had a hard life. For all her sluttishness, she has a

genuine innocence. Both playwright and actress keep her from lapsing into

stereotype. She's funny and affecting, sexy in a trampy way.

The charm of "Cowbirds" lies more in the telling than the story being told.

The plot revolves around a Big Family Secret that, at the end of the day, is

neither very big nor much of a secret to the audience.

Since this is the play's first exposure to a paying audience, one hopes to

see it again with a more fully realized plot. Arcieri needs to go deeper with

his premise to find substance to match the depth of his characterizations and

clarity of his writing.

In the meantime, director Fred DeFeis should be proud of his insightful

production of "Cowbirds." In Arcieri, who's had earlier work produced in

Manhattan and Australia, he has found a writer with a distinct voice and a

confident sense of craft.


COWBIRDS. By D.T. Arcieri. Directed by Fred DeFeis. At Arena Players Second

Stage Theatre, 296 Route 109, East Farmingdale. Seen at opening night last

Friday. Continues through March 7.

More Lifestyle