Los Angeles Theater Review: MAN COVETS BIRD (24th Street Theatre)

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by Jason Rohrer on October 14, 2015

in Theater-Los Angeles

CRITIC COVETS HEART

Leeav Sofer and Andrew Huber in Man Covets Bird at 24th Street Theatre. Photo by Cooper Bates.It is unfair but true that in watching 24th Street Theatre’s American premiere production of Finegan Kruckmeyer’s Man Covets Bird, one automatically compares it to Debbie Devine’s last directorial effort here, Mike Kenny’s Walking the Tightrope, in 2013. That show won all the wins and toured all the tours, made everybody feel all the feels, and gave my nieces their first experience of theater as other than a delivery system for bad music. The ten-year-old turned to me wide-eyed in the middle of Tightrope and mouthed over the five-year-old’s head, “Grandma’s dead!” It was one of the most rewarding moments I have had at the theater, and (I have to believe) it will for some time remain the most rewarding for them. This is of course 24th Street’s mission: to entertain and educate every demographic that walks in and sits down.

Leeav Sofer and Andrew Huber star in Man Covets Bird at 24th Street Theatre. Photo by Cooper Bates

In furtherance of the common good, artistic director Devine and executive director Jay McAdams spend most of their time not just producing theater but conducting classes and workshops in 24th Street’s downtown barrio por vida and abroad — for most of the last decade, the theater has worked in some tough neighborhoods in El Salvador, too, on the heartbreaking assumption that art can help. 24th Street’s school-bus budget in L.A. alone is $50,000 a year.

Andrew Huber in Man Covets Bird at 24th Street Theatre. Photo by Cooper Bates.

Smoking on the sidewalk half a block down before the show last weekend, I was confronted by a shaggy little dog, matted and fly-blown. He communed with my friend and me, the three of us discussing matters of social and political import while a rooster crowed somewhere. You see this a lot in lower-income Latin neighborhoods, three or four guys leaning around a parked car in desultory conversation. It felt odd and inspiriting to know that there was a theater a few doors down that exists to nurture all of us. Ezra and I went to the show; the dog went to see about a chicken. You can’t reach everybody.

Leeav Sofer and Andrew Huber in Man Covets Bird at 24th Street Theatre - photo by Cooper Bates.

And you don’t catch Debbie Devine trying. Her direction is accomplished and assured, making big choices, apparently unconcerned with its reception, as it should be. Man Covets Bird aims to include everyone who sees it by doing exactly what Devine wants it to do. Her actor-musicians (Andrew Huber, Leeav Sofer) are game; Matthew Hill’s video projections are sweetly interactive, and Cricket Myers’ sound design is so good that when an actor takes the clarinet from his lips and the music seamlessly continues, you feel not tricked but delighted. Still, you can’t stop thinking about Walking the Tightrope, for good reason. Man Covets Bird is not a very strong script.

Andrew Huber and Leeav Sofer in Man Covets Bird at 24th Street Theatre. Photo by Cooper Bates

The show begins as a poetic and engaging coming-of-age story about a young man’s attempt to navigate his evolving emotional and physical universe via his only friend, an animated songbird who lives in his pocket. After he moves to the city and gets a job, the writing labors to sustain that simple universality. The final fifteen or twenty minutes of the seventy minute narrative frankly lost me. When a man as romantic and impractical as I am is unable to sustain interest in a fantasy trying its best to take me out of my own disappointing existence, I blame the writer. The story’s resolution is both predictable and charmless. The potential embrace of a mildly transgressive theme turns into clumsy applause for an inescapable normality.

Andrew Huber and Leeav Sofer in Man Covets Bird at 24th Street Theatre. Photo by Cooper Bates.

But you know what? They give you ice cream after, from an ice cream truck that actually has an inspiring, roundabout history with the theater. The truth about the value of this USC-adjacent institution is best experienced by simply going there and absorbing this good energy. 24th Street makes shows you can enjoy with your children and your parents, and even this one works on that level. Imperfect, it is not a bad play; it’s just not Walking the Tightrope.

Leeav Sofer and Andrew Huber star in Man Covets Bird at 24th Street Theatre. Photo by Cooper Bates.

photos by Cooper Bates

Man Covets Bird
LAb24
24th Street Theatre, 1117 West 24th St
Sat at 3 and 7:30; Sun at 3
ends on November 22, 2015
EXTENDED to May 15, 2016
for tickets, call 213.745.6516 or visit www.24thstreet.org

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