By Ashley Glazebrook
A low voice speaks out over the theater, delivering an eerie monologue that leaves the audience silent. A slow stream of people garbed in tattered brown cloth and blue paint appear and sweep across the stage, striking appendage-twisting poses.
This is one of the opening scenes of “Birdman,” Barnstorm’s first production of the year, which debuted last week to confused yet captive audiences.
The play was written and directed by third-year students Matt Kedzie and Zena Walas. The production’s inspiration was drawn from the history of Easter Island, which was home to a cult that held an annual competition to designate their leader, Birdman.
Over time, this tribe neglected their island home and caused widespread desolation. Those that survived were taken as slaves to Chile, and were then returned, infected by disease. The population soon ceased to exist.
The play itself was an abstraction of this series of events.
“I figured out what I wanted to show and then just wrote a libretto of movements and scenes that I thought we could do,” Kedzie said. “A lot of it came from sketches, I was doing a lot of drawing over the summer. That was probably the biggest help in getting to what we put on stage.”
The production was a conglomeration of monologues and interpretive dance moves, broken up by intermittent sparring and dialogue in an indecipherable language. The actors relied heavily on their bodies to convey their meanings to the audience, which resulted in constant movement, constant action and a sheer lack of dull moments.
“Communicating without language was really important to us,” Kedzie said. “So we tried to communicate interrogatives, declaratives and imperatives without using any words to see if it was possible.”
Yet without language, a meaning was hard to decipher. Walas said the abstract vagueness of an overall significance was intentional.
“Each of the directors has a different meaning for it — even the cast members have different meanings for it themselves,” Walas said. “We like to leave it up to interpretation so that the audience gets whatever they want or need to get out of seeing it.”
The audience had varied reactions to the play.
“It had some underlying environmental methods — I think it was talking about mistreating the earth,” first-year Derrick Leung said. “I wasn’t expecting the religious subtext.”
First-year Kellie Hoang said it was not what she expected.
“It was different, but interesting,” Hoang said. “I was expecting a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ kind of thing, not this.”
Yet the collaborative effort of the cast and crew made for an hour and a half of nonstop raptness. The entire production may have been abstract, but it was unforgettable, and the underlying meanings of the moves and makings was relatable to everyone in the audience.
“There’s the mass destruction of their environment and nowadays, we’re worrying about global warming and things like that,” Kedzie said. “It all relates.”