Wednesday, February 6, 2002

Fowl Play

February 6 - 12, 2002

by Alexis Soloski

On a weekend jaunt to a rural town in upstate New York, a member of the Civilians — a new theater troupe of arch up-and-comers — made an appalling discovery. A resident informed her that while filming the feel-good '96 flick Fly Away Home, the Disney crew had imprinted local geese and then abandoned them to freeze. When injustice calls, what are actors to do? Pile into a station wagon; drive to Long Lake, New York; and create a Laramie Project-style piece about the frozen flock entitled Canard, Canard, Goose?.

But the Civilians get their flight plan royally feathered up. In the course of interviews they determine that Fly Away Home was shot in Ontario and that the geese were treated quite well. Long Lake had provided the backdrop for a French-Canadian nature documentary on geese and no birds were harmed by the making of that film either. (It's as if the members of the Tectonic Project had travelled to Laramie only to discover Matthew Shepard had been tortured in Nebraska and not so much tortured as fed delicious cake.) When your premise falls apart, what's a young company to do? Put on a show anyway.

The lively, insouciant piece that results chronicles the Civilians' fowl experience. Spirited musical numbers dot the action, which consists of re-creations of Civilians brainstorming sessions and interviews with predictably hickish upstaters. The local stereotyping is trite at best (offensive at worst), but there's real joy when the Civilians play themselves in all their misplaced, mistaken, vegetarian self-righteousness. Besides, it's not every company that can write bilingual comic songs (a shout-out to those French Canadians) or screw up in such a delightfully quackerjack fashion.