Poland is not a sexy country. John Feffer, author and star of the one-man play The Bird, can and does tell you as much. But after accompanying John through the raucously funny and heart-wrenching journey across the underrated country, you’ll not only feel compelled to visit, but to follow Mr. Feffer across Poland to hear him recount this tale again.
The Bird tells the true story of John, a young American post-grad in search of an adventurous future abroad while traveling Poland, discovering his roots and encountering the past. Though consistently narrated by John, the piece is told through the eyes of seven different characters of varying nationalities, ethnicities, religions, and time periods. Sound confusing? It isn’t. John reveals himself as a master storyteller with text that can only be described as heartbreaking. Heartbreaking in its humor, its truth, and of course, in its sorrow.
Feffer’s portrayals of this array of characters does his beautiful text justice, capturing the idiosyncrasies, and honesty of the faces to whom history was so unkind. The audience (a full house when I attended, I might add) easily feels as though a new actor has stepped on stage with every character change, though John is merely taking off a pair of glasses, or putting on a hat. With brilliant direction by Doug Krehbel, these new transitions never feel like a stretch, but merely another chapter emerging from a book.
For such a complicated tale, the piece is also organized with unmistakable clarity. A projector is used to establish time, character, and place. The visuals are used sparingly, and with good reason. Feffer has the audience transported within the opening five minutes, recounting an incident I doubt will be forgotten anytime soon.
The Bird’s subject matter, while broad, centers greatly around the damage done to the Polish community after the Second World War. John encounters Jewish Poles, Catholic Poles and ex-pats along the way, experiences that leave him forever altered. For all the darkness, there is much levity, filling the space with more laughs than one would bargain for. John embodies a charming neuroticism throughout, capturing the eager carpe diem mentality of youth, as well as the face-palm moments that pepper twenty-something lives.
Poland’s history is complicated and at times brushed over, but John urges us to look closer, within ourselves and within the context of history. The Bird is a treasure. Thanks to Fringe, one doesn’t need to cross oceans to find it.
The Bird has 4 more performances at the Goethe Institut, 812 7th Street Northwest
Washington D.C., DC.