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
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
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
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.