Over the next three weeks, a humorous spin off of Alfred Hitchcock’s film “The Birds” will hit the stage at Cape Fear Playhouse. Big Dawg Productions is premiering “The Birds Attack!”, written by Jimmy Janowski, who celebrated the 50-year anniversary of the 1963 film by creating what he coined “an unauthorized parody.”
A horror film about the citizens of Bodega Bay, California, “The Birds” follows civilians who suddenly fall victim to random and unexplainable bird attacks. The birds in the film become violent and even murderous. Janowski’s creative transformation, “The Birds Attack!” takes the film from onscreen to onstage with a mixture of suspense and comical relief. He even includes elements of drag in character building, including burlesque showmanship. The birds in the performance are still the antagonists, but the comedic twists and turns within the show separate it from the movie.
Because the show displays so many different locations, the set pieces used are mobile and Big Dawg artistic director Steve Vernon—who also is directing the show—will include multimedia as well. Vernon stumbled upon “The Birds Attack!” while researching possible performances to bring to the Cape Fear Playhouse for the 2016 season.
“I was able to track down Jimmy,” Vernon tells encore, “and he kindly sent me a perusal script. I read it and thought it was one of the funniest things I’d read in a while! It is also wonderfully subversive and filled to the brim with jokes. It was like ‘Young Frankenstein’ meets ‘Rocky Horror’ meets ‘The Birds.’ All of the female characters are played by men in drag, and the birds are played by actual actors.”
In keeping with a cult-classic vibe, the show also includes audience participation. “There is a scene from the film where the children in a school are being led in a sing-along of a nonsensical song,” Vernon explains. “The audience will be playing the part of the school kids for that scene. They will also be supplying some sound effects for us in a crucial bird attack scene.”
The plot follows Melanie Daniels (Kenneth Rosander), who meets Mitch Brenner (Woody Stefl) in a pet store in San Francisco and decides to follow him home. She brings two love birds with her as a gift, which spark a romance. One day birds begin attacking children at Mitch’s sister’s party, which turns into a huge assault across town as well.
“A lot of the lines are almost word for word [from the movie],” Rosander says. “It’s really just putting a spotlight on some of the absurd things of that era that we can laugh at today. My character, Melanie, for example, is well-off, stubborn, and unafraid to coyly use charm and sexuality to get what she wants. Because of that, she’s judged and targeted by the locals of Bodega Bay.”
If judged by today’s code of thrill and suspense, the film wouldn’t be as shocking. Yet, Rosander says the show is able to push the boundaries more. “Ultimately, I think what will resonate with the audience is the fun of seeing such a famous film turned on its head,” he explains.
Melanie’s love interest, Mitch, is a good guy by all accounts. Woody Stefl, who plays the characters, calls him a “do-no-wrong, connect-the-dots, Mr.-Fixit, lend-a-hand type of character”—someone with whom we’re all familiar. Yet, in the show Stefl shows us the opposite side of the character as well. “It can be very amusing,” he notes. “It is the playful arena of contradictions that I think the audience will connect with.”
The production only has been performed two other times since its inception at the Buffalo Arts Center. It will be a Wilmington premiere. “Every scene from the film makes its way into the play, in some fashion or another,” Vernon assures. “Fans of the movie will recognize a lot of things, but you don’t have to have seen the film to enjoy the show. It is entertaining enough on its own merit!”
Vernon has been in the theater business for over 20 years and has an eye for interesting scripts. “The Birds Attack!” appealed to him mostly because it’s fast-paced and campy—a perfect fit for the Halloween season run of the show.
“As a theater lover, I really like the fact the play is pure escapism,” Vernon says. “As a director, it appeals to my sense of creativity, as well as my desire to direct something that is just fun.”
“The Birds Attack!” is “R” rated because of language and situations, so it isn’t a show appropriate for children. It opens Thursday with a pay-what-you-can admission price ($5 minimum).