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Theater review: 'The Hyacinth Macaw' at the Royal Theatre, Queen Mary

February 24, 2011 |  4:00 pm

Hyacinth Playwright Mac Wellman's ultra-loquacious opacity turns absurdist wordplay into a daunting exercise. California Repertory Company's production of his 1994 "The Hyacinth Macaw" at the Queen Mary in Long Beach is no exception.

The second of Wellman's four "Crowtet" plays, "Macaw" opens as teenaged Susannah (Anna Steers) meets enigmatic Mr. William Hard (Jerry Prell), who enters from the aisle calling her an orphan, "a rootless, yanked-up thing." Eventually, this emissary from "the land of evening" informs Susannah and Dora (Lysa Fox), her wearily domestic mother, that paterfamilias Ray (Craig Anton) is "a duplicate," whom Mr. Hard was sent to replace. Thereafter, Wellman's textual mulligatawny goes into overdrive.

Across-the-map references, stream-of-consciousness reversals and phrases such as "entrechat of enthymemes" collide in an ostensible reverie on illusory self-identity in a declining nation (or planet). It's the kind of logorrhea-afflicted meta-text that has provided American Theatre magazine with copy for decades.

Director Jim Martin oversees a competent academic reading, with designer Cristina Bejarano's Joseph Cornell-inspired set and Nick Davidson's lunar lighting standout décor elements. Given the mountains of verbiage, his actors are heroic, including laconic Simon Brooke as homeless Mad Wu, whose Act 2 advent includes lines such as "The world is complex. It contains little things like tantalum and the large intestine."

Their tireless efforts cannot give Wellman's perversely abstruse writing -- think Ronald Firbank's old thesaurus, hijacked by Allen Ginsberg while waiting for Godot with Samuel Beckett-- remotely the importance it gives itself, let alone meaning. Avant-garde devotees may well value "The Hyacinth Macaw." Average theatergoers may prefer to peruse the Cunard Line memorabilia in the lobby.

-- David C. Nichols

"The Hyacinth Macaw," the Royal Theater, Queen Mary, 1126 Queen's Highway, Long Beach. 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays (plus March 8, 8 p.m.). Ends March 12. $20. (562) 985-5526. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

Photo: Anna Steers and Lysa Fox. Credit: Keith Ian Polakoff