Outlying Islands

Lea Coco, Peter Haig (on the ground)
and Michael McMillian

In Scottish playwright David Greig's Outlying Islands, two British ornithologists settle in on one of the Outer Scottish Islands, excited and anxious to spend a solitary month studying the habits of the birds who frequent the island. It is 1939, the eve of World War II. Though the young naturalists' interest is scientific, and they are passionate about it, the work they are to do portends a more ominous purpose for the government agency that supports this visit.

Robert (Lea Coco) and John (Michael McMillian) are friends and colleagues. John is somewhat in awe of Robert's philosophies and his penchant for analyzing everything and everyone. The two have a like purpose in their interest in birds, but they approach things very differently. They challenge each other and often spar in juvenile ways. Also on the island are Kirk (Peter Haig), who owns the island, and his niece Ellen (Robin Abramson), at hand to cook for the men. A triangle soon forms among the two visitors and the young woman as the play takes off on several very personal journeys. A sudden and shocking event leaves the ending somewhat disappointing, but excellent acting work and other production elements make this play an overall satisfying event.

Lea Coco and Michael McMillian, both CMU graduates, work together often and their comfort with each other is apparent right from the start. Each grabs hold of his character with solid and grounded portrayals, their accents are excellent, and they provide many moments of poignancy, humor and emotion. They are matched by the talents of Robin Abramson who, as Ellen, gets between the two men and makes a big difference in both of their lives. Abramson, a Point Park College graduate, is a natural and controlled actor. She never overplays, and she uses subtle physical gestures to show Ellen's personality. When called upon to be more spunky, Abramson comes through while staying well within the persona of her character. This is fine acting work all around - all three of the actors have very bright futures.

As the supporting cast member, Peter Haig plays Kirk as well as the small part of the captain at the end of the piece. Haig does a great job in the role of stubborn and steadfast (and eventually very drunk) Kirk, who sees favorable future possibilities from the otherwise unfortunate future of his island.

Tony Ferrieri's set of a cutaway of the island's "chapel" - a stone hut built into the ground - is excellent. The set creates atmosphere as well as opportunities for director Tracy Brigden to send her characters outside, and to allow them to efficiently interact inside. Lighting and Sound Design by Rand Ryan and Elizabeth Atkinson, respectively, are essential in evoking the mood of the damp island habitat. Kudos also go to Dialect Coach Don Wadsworth.

Outlying Islands continues through October 31 at the City Theatre. For performance and ticket information, call (412) 431-2489 or visit www.citytheatrecompany.org.

The City's next production will be Tristine Skyler's The Moonlight Room, which runs October 28 - December 12.

Photo: Ric Evans

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