The Bird Sanctuary

Also see Ann's review of Late Nite Catechism

In this family, hate, like love, is only a figure of speech.

Hayley Mills and Elizabeth Franz
The Pittsburgh Public Theater is presenting the American premiere of Frank McGuinness' The Bird Sanctuary, a play that might best be described as a mystical family comedy-drama. Set in Dublin, in a family home that overlooks the Booterstown Bird Sanctuary, the two-act piece introduces five Henrysons: sisters Eleanor (Elizabeth Franz) and Marianne (Hayley Mills), their brother Robert (Martin Fayner), his wife Tina (Diane Ciesla) and their son Stephen (David Turner). Eleanor, a painter, lives in the family home, alone until nephew Stephen left his parents' home over their refusal to accept the fact that he is gay. In the opening scene, the two are anticipating the return of Marianne, who has been living in England for some time with her husband and children. We learn that Marianne and Robert want to sell the home, while Eleanor, a reclusive and eccentric artist, is opposed to the sale. Once Marianne's real reason for visiting is revealed, the story takes on a sorcerous quality, though the family's dramas, going back to childhood, are dealt with in a more literal fashion.

Each of these fine actors has great opportunity to establish McGuinness' interesting characters, even though the play only runs a bit over two hours, including intermission. Elizabeth Franz turns in a moving portrayal of a conflicted artist - at one moment brittle and fragile, the next shrill and enraged - as Eleanor tries to hold on to the home while opening up to renewing deep-seated sisterly ties. Hayley Mills is cast perfectly as Marianne, who has been living a proper English middle-class life, but turns to her sister with a desperate plea. The scenes between these two very talented actresses are compelling and show the distinct personalities of the sisters as well as the strong familial bond.

Brother Robert has his hands full, trying to hold his immediate family together and attempting to smooth over any bumps in this long overdue sibling reunion. Martin Fayner does a fine job in a role that doesn't offer too much depth, one of a weak man whose gambling problems cause more stress for all. As Robert's wife Tina, Diane Ciesla uses every minute of her onstage time to create the most interesting and resonant character of all. All five characters are Irish, but only Tina has a brogue (the story explains the more British dialects of the others) and, as the only Henryson not connected by blood, she is an outsider in several ways. However, Tina has a complete journey in this story, and Ciesla's work in the second act is stunning and powerful. Stephen, who drinks and banters on an adult level with the others, holds a lot inside: his love for his parents, and a life that is completely removed from his family. David Turner is given quite a challenge to hold his own with this experienced ensemble of actors, and he does a respectable job.

The single set of the deteriorated state of "one of Dublin's most beautiful houses" is well designed by Michael Schweikardt, with wonderful paintings on easels that mesh with the play in many ways. Contributions by Phil Monat (Lighting), Nanzi Adzima (Costumes), Robert C. Rees (Original Music) and Zach Moore (Sound Design) work well together, along with Kent Paul's efficient and effective direction.

Frank McGuinness lives in Dublin, in a home overlooking the Booterstown Bird Sanctuary. The peaceful setting surrounds the Henrysons as well, as they seek a peaceful resolution to the fractured state of their family in a play greatly enhanced by a superb cast. The Bird Sanctuary runs through May 15 at the O'Reilly Theater. For performance and ticket information, call 412-316-1600 or visit or the box office at 621 Penn Avenue.

Note: Since the recent death of Hayley Mills' father, actor Sir John Mills, understudy Amy Landis has been playing the role of Marianne. Mills is expected back later this weekend.

Photo: Ric Evans

See the current Schedule of Pittsburgh Theatre.

-- Ann Miner

Privacy Policy