Step into the Roxy Performing Arts Center and you are immediately swept into the sweaty, schmaltzy fictional world of Bird Land Family Theme Park, a park in Miami that features exotic birds. Bubbly teenagers in matching T-shirts greet you with warnings not to feed the animals, and a gregarious vendor (artistic director, Ricky J. Martinez) serves up popcorn and lemonade in chatty Spanglish.
Such pre-performance hoopla could easily feel gimmicky, but the high energy of New Theatre’s production of Bird in the Hand is so genuinely adolescent, it’s contagious. Cuban-American playwright Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas’ play is very funny, and at times, moving.
Bird in the Hand is essentially a memory play that uses humor to carve out a space where alienation festers. Through a series of flashbacks, we follow Felix (Ivan R. Lopez), a witty, self-loathing high school senior, as he navigates his romantic feelings for his best friend, Gabriel (Gabriel Jose Bonilla). Felix also wrestles with his plans for the future. As the son of Cuban immigrants, he feels pressured to take over the family’s theme park, which he detests. The play also follows the ups and downs of Gabriel’s girlfriend, Susan (Michelle Antelo) and her sister, Vanessa (Vanessa Thompson), who are living on their own while their mother is in rehab for the umpteenth time.
Martinez, who also created the clever set design, closed off a larger stage to create a very intimate black box setting. Wherever you are sitting, the actors are almost within arm’s reach, which intensifies the humor and the drama.
Kristina Abreu, Sammantha Hernandez, and Fidel Urbina represent three flamingos. The three strut around the stage, sporting hot pink stilettos, skin-tight, island print Lycra pants, and flamingo headdresses. They honk obnoxiously and wave their clipped wings. Amazingly, this is enough to convey the garish beauty of the theme park.
Cortiñas has written an excellent script where flamingos and airport metal detectors become rich and vivid metaphors for loneliness, longing, and isolation. The barbs between smart-alecky Felix and naïve Gabriel are hilarious. Lopez and Bonilla vividly portray the depths and complexities of male friendship without ever losing the goofiness and hubris of adolescence. Likewise, Michelle Antelo is comical as Susan, the anorexic whose school girl flakiness makes some surprising turns. Vanessa Thompson plays the uber-responsible big sister, Vanessa, with just the right blend of sarcasm.
The theme of immigration is present throughout the play. We don’t see them, but histrionic immigrant parents seem to threaten to intrude on this adolescent world at every turn. Even the flamingos are allegedly immigrants. Felix’s scheme to free one so it can fly back to Cuba symbolizes his longing for a deeper connection with Gabriel in particular and the world at large. The play offers no easy answers, but the authenticity and exuberance of its characters inspire hope.