The Black Bird Returns
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 17, 2006
The Black Bird Returns is an intimate play about a woman who is, as the old song puts it, torn between two lovers. Years ago, Kat and Cliff were together, but he eventually left the relationship. Cliff went on to marry Amanda, who is now pregnant with their first child. Kat is living with Roger. Suddenly, Cliff reappears in Kat's life, seeking to rekindle their affair. She is more than willing, especially when she discovers the dire life circumstance that has led Cliff to find her after all these years. Cliff seems able to fit both Kat and Amanda in his life. Can Kat accommodate two men in hers?
It's not an uninteresting story, but it's slight; Alexis Kozak and Barbara Panas's script doesn't provide a great deal of information about any of these characters—we never know what any of them do for a living, for example, or how any two met, or what keeps the various pairings together. The authors do spend a bit of time on a flashback, showing us Cliff and Kat years ago, and introducing us to a black bird that seems meant to be a symbol of something (though I have to confess it was never exactly clear to me precisely what). This gives us an investment in Cliff and Kat's relationship that's missing from the others presented in the play; a possible way to flesh out this short piece out might be to fill in some of the blanks in the Cliff-Amanda and Kat-Roger stories.
Also problematic is the fact that Panas, who plays Kat, has co-written a very unsympathetic role for herself. A lot of stuff happens to Kat in the play, and some of it is upsetting; but some of it is quite nice. No matter: this lady is inclined to always see the negative side of things, and her reactions to good news for herself or dire news about others in invariably to complain. She's really hard to like; I wondered why Panas wanted to create such a protagonist.
Amanda (Julie Jensen) is only marginally more appealing. But Cliff, especially as embodied by David Walters in the production's most accomplished performance, is more or less likable. Roger (Douglas Lally) is a bit of a cipher. Kozak's staging is workmanlike, using Nick Francone's unit set to generally good effect (it's a two-level apartment that serves as living quarters for both couples; it's only a bit awkward in the couple of scenes that apparently take place outside, which are staged in front of and behind a counter).