Huntington's "Becoming Cuba": Paella with Rum and Coke

Brandon Barbosa, Juan Javier Cardenas, Christina Pumariega,
 Christopher Tarjan & Rebecca Soler in "Becoming Cuba"
(photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Sometimes a rare evening of theater is like a healthy helping of paella, filled with nourishing, sometimes indescribably exotic ingredients, expertly mixed and seasoned. “Becoming Cuba”, a new work by Huntington Theatre Company Playwright-in-Residence Melinda Lopez (whose play “Sonia Flew” was presented by Huntington in 2004) is the ultimate theatrical buffet. Having had its world premiere last year at San Diego’s North Coast Repertory Theatre, this much-revised version is directed by Huntington’s Associate Producer M. Bevin O’Gara. In its present state, it’s a fascinating amalgam of forms, part comedy as well as tragedy, part naturalistic as well as magically realistic. It really defies pigeon-holing, somehow managing successfully to be all things to all men, and, especially, women. In a very subversive way, it even becomes a feminist statement about an atypically vocal protagonist, a widow facing change, both within herself and without, and how events and emotions produce an inescapable metamorphosis in her life. In many unexpected ways, this is an unforgettable triumph for Lopez.

It’s the story of the Cuban widow Adela (Christina Pumariega) and her choices between family and country loyalty. Intensely personal and passionate, it’s inspired by the playwright’s own great grandmother’s experiences. Due to Spain’s overtaxing of Cuba (and Puerto Rico) to fund war losses, Cuban revolutionaries proclaimed independence in 1895, supported by the countryside “campesinos”, leading to the Cuban War of Independence (known here in the U.S. as the Spanish-American War, though our involvement was quite late on the scene). By 1897, guerilla warfare and disease hinted at victory for the rebels, but the U.S. intervened anyway. A short year later, the U.S. and Spain signed the Treaty of Paris granting Cuban independence. Against this historical background, the fictional story of one family is explored.

In 1897 Cuba, Adela leaves the country home where her father, her half-brother Manny (Juan Javier Cardenas, doubling as the character of the Little Conquistador) and sister Martina (Rebecca Soler) were active in the rebellion against Spain. Adela heads for Havana, marries a Spanish pharmacist, and takes over his pharmacy when he’s killed in the war. Despite difficulty getting supplies due to a blockade of the harbor, she is unwilling at first to get involved in the rebellion. She has several visions (or ghosts or apparitions), such as folk hero Hatuey’s wife (Marianna Bassham, doubling as the noblewoman Fancy). Another pivotal character is that of the American journalist Richard Davis (Christopher Tarjan), based on real-life journalists such as Sylvester Scovel of The New York World, and Grover Flint and Richard Harding Davis of the New York Journal. Also appearing, doubling as the youths Chucho and Mambi, is Brandon Barbosa. At the beginning (and end) of the play, the Conquistador (Christopher Burns, doubling as Fancy’s husband Isidore) ominously proclaims: “Blood will have blood”, then refers to English as a “language of grunts and farts”. It’s just the first of many swings of words and moods in the play. All of the cast are at the top of their form, especially Pumariega in the central role of the evolving Adela; it’s impossible to take one’s eyes off her. It is she who describes thirty years of war as not a metaphor, but background noise. Near the end of the play, she admits that she is “becoming Cuban, I suppose”.

O’Gara’s direction, as in her previous work at SpeakEasy Stage with “Tribes” and “Clybourne Park”, is remarkable. The other technical credits are equally fine, including the impressive Scenic Design of the Havana pharmacy by Cameron Anderson, precise Costume Design by Andrea Hood, and Lighting Design by Yi Zhao and Sound Design by Arshan Gailus.

As Lopez has stated, the play questions whether freedom is something we all want. It deals with what happens when people awake to take action, and when the American intervention complicates affairs leading to “unintended circumstances”. After a hearty dose of theatrical paella, one might want to follow up with a restorative rum and coke, which of course goes by the name of “Cuba libre”.


New Rep's "Our Lady": It Gets Bitter

James Fluhr in "Our Lady"
(photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures)

“Our Lady”, an intensely moving presentation of performance art now at New Rep in Watertown , is the creation of one James Fluhr, who conceived it, wrote the piece, and performs it. He even provided (with Courtney Nelson) the wonderful Scenic Design. If popcorn were being sold in the lobby, one suspects this multi-talented wunderkind would be out there popping. And “out there” he certainly is, in several meanings of the term, for this is an extraordinarily personal (as in autobiographical) self-described “fairy story” of one young gay man’s coming out. Asked to elaborate on his tale, he deemed it seductive, sparkling and stark, and it’s all of that. At ninety minutes with no intermission, it covers a remarkable bit of territory, with a journey by Fluhr (a recent graduate of Boston University) from his initial emergence to full-fledged and feathery defiance.

Along the way, Fluhr provides some terrific insights into the roles played in his development by his mother (a complex, truly nuanced Southern belle), his father (at first the object of his anger) and his late beloved lover Aspen. It’s a moving, often heartrending, progression, but the key to it all is how he accomplished it. The writing of this piece was the beginning of his road to inward and outer peace. To conquer the ignorance of “The Monster” that is the bigotry of his father and much of today’s world, he conjured up the power of “Our Lady of the Ashes”, rising up (and raising us up with her) like a phoenix, to heal and to hope. If at first his reaction is to get bitter (especially given the horrific reality of young gay suicides), Fluhr’s redemption in his own eyes as well as others starts with his admission that he still loves his father and remains proud of him despite his narrow-mindedness.

As fundamentally idiosyncratic as this work is, the play succeeds best when it transcends the personal and encompasses the greater world of being gay in a homophobic world. If the emphasis is first on the intimate look at one man’s fear of finding and fulfilling love, it morphs stunningly into a universal outcry for overcoming fears. It’s revelatory, as the current New Rep production, the second in a series of three plays (the others being “Tongue of a Bird” and “In Between”), as well as other play readings, that all together form the First Annual New Rep Black Box Festival. "Our Lady" is a promising continuation, due in large part to the contributions of Fluhr’s technical team, including the crucial Lighting Design by Dan Alaimo, fabulous Costume Design by Ameera Ali and Costume Construction by Chelsea Kerl, Sound Design by Yi-Chun “Iggy” Hung and mesmerizing Projection Design by Matthew Haber.

The greatest enemy of freedom is complacency; “Our Lady” raises us up from the comfortable to the confrontational. It’s a timely reminder, for those of us who live in a relatively liberal bubble (Saint Patrick’s Day parade ugliness aside) in our Commonwealth, that while much has been accomplished historically, much remains in the fight to gain the dignity and respect due all of us. Here we have an amazingly gifted actor and author to remind us once again: It gets better.


Lyric Stage's "Rich Girl": Lighter Than "Heiress"

Amelia Broom, Sasha Castroverde & Joe Short
in "Rich Girl"
(photo: Nerys Powell)
If the premise of “Rich Girl”, Lyric Stage Company’s current offering, seems familiar, it’s because it should be. Written by Victoria Stewart, it’s based on the 1880 novel “Washington Square” by Henry James (adapted as a play, “The Heiress”, in 1947, with two subsequent film versions in 1949 and 1997). The story is basically the same, the reluctance on the part of a wealthy parent to approve a daughter’s choice of a suitor, who is suspected of being more interested in money than in love. But the similarities pretty much end there. This is far, far from the melodrama one might expect, but is in fact a story with a distinctively lighter touch. As directed here by Courtney O’Connor in its New England premiere, it’s a fundamentally rejuvenated look at an age-old quandary, from a much more comedic point of view. Stewart doesn’t just update this basic idea, but takes it in ingenious directions one doesn’t expect. By the time some family conflicts are reconciled, you’ve heard from a wonderfully creative new voice in the theater.

Eve (Amelia Broom), a divorced CNBC “celebrity financial guru” (think Suze Orman) heads her own foundation, and is a self-described “truth-teller”. Claudine (Sasha Castroverde), her clumsy and unsophisticated daughter with rebellious hair the color of an overripe aubergine, is being groomed to take over the foundation. Maggie (Celeste Oliva), Eve’s personal assistant (think Eve Arden), provides a buffer between them when Henry (Joe Short), a theatrical artist in a dirt-poor, off-off-Broadway company, reencounters Claudine, whom he hasn‘t seen since high school. He’s looking partly for a grant, and perhaps more than she takes for granted. In one telling encounter, Henry says very pointedly to Eve: “Do I like money? Sure. Money does, after all, buy happiness. They say it doesn’t, but you and I both know the statistics. It does.” Eve has already told her television audience about what her priorities are for necessary “financial intimacy”: “When a man and a woman love each other, truly love each other, they will want…to sign…a pre-nup” (with an emergency fund for the first eight months). Her motto, parroted back by her followers, is “Honesty First”, which she brutally demonstrates when she tells Claudine that giving birth to her ruined her life. Claudine retorts that her mother “wanted me to be unloved forever to teach me a lesson”. Occasional referee Maggie comments to Claudine: “You’re loved, but that’s not enough to convince you that you’re loveable.”

To walk the tightrope between the tragic and the satirical in this play, without resorting to caricature or stooping to the level of sit-coms, might present too much of a challenge in lesser hands. Fortunately, O’Connor has assembled a cast that’s more than capable of pulling this off. Broom has a field day with the role of the truly sadistic mother, which should come as no surprise to anyone who saw her dominating diva last season in New Rep’s “Master Class”; her Eve and her garden of evil are relentless, even when the secret of some of her personal issues surfaces, too long hidden beneath that snake-oil saleswoman. Castroverde is an appealingly vulnerable klutz who eventually morphs into the woman even her monster of a mother could love, an intensely believable metanoia from wallflower to Venus fly trap. Oliva, a familiar presence on Lyric’s stage, has never been better, though one might wish she would slow down her pace a bit when cracking wise. Last but not least is Short as the enigmatic would-be suitor, keeping cast and audience wondering as to whether Henry’s intentions are honorable or mercenary, and whether he loves Claudine as she does him; he’s both appealingly earnest and unnervingly suspect at the same time. The discerning of fact from possible fiction frames the dilemma. The work of the technical crew aids considerably in establishing this piece. The Scenic Design by Brynna Bloomfield is amazingly suggestive given the limited confines of Lyric’s venue, aided by the perfectly focused Lighting Design by Chris Bocchiaro and authentically appropriate Sound Design by Brendan F. Doyle, not to mention the fine Costume Design by Mallory Frers. All contribute to the successful modernization of this time-honored conflict.

Without divulging too much about the plot’s twists and turns, it could be said that this version is about risk and regret, and reconciliation, but not necessarily the kind of reconciliation one might expect. Even Claudine herself recognizes that the term “reconciliation” can mean a merely financial one. And Maggie sums up the irony of all ironies: “If he acts as though he loves you, and you act as though you love him, how is that different from being in love with one another?” It’s an even more cynical view than that of Henry James, despite coming from the comical sidekick. Maggie also notes at one point when considering a move: “Washington Square is beautiful”, a real inside Jamesian joke. Well, maybe, but beauty is only skin deep. As the final scene arrives, we finally learn the fate of these tortured relationships (or maybe not). Those who have awaited the heiress’ decision in past productions, just as with another certain play as to whether Nora will slam that door of her dollhouse, will just have to wait a bit longer to see how this one comes out. One thing will be certain at the curtain: you won’t be quite the same audience coming out as you were going in. And, richer or poorer, that’s the very modern model of thought-provoking theater.


Bridge Rep's "Hello Again": Theater in La Ronde

Sean Patrick Gibbons and Aubin Wise ("Hello Again")
(Photo: Marc J. Franklin)

The musical “Hello Again”, Bridge Rep’s current production, was first performed in New York in 1994, commissioned by Lincoln Center. With book, music and lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa (“Marie Christine”, “The Wild Party” and “See What I Wanna See”), it was almost sung-through, thus virtually an opera. Based on the 1897 play “La Ronde” by Arthur Schnitzler, who placed his work in the Vienna of the 1890’s, “Hello Again” is centered in the twentieth century. It consists of ten scenes covering ten decades, a chain of ten conversations leading to ten sexual dalliances between ten pairs of people. As with the Schnitzler source, each scene is linked by a character type from the previous scene until the first and last characters meet in the final section. They are all essentially on the same quest for a real emotional connection. This version is in a cabaret style setting, which proves quite appropriate for this intimate ninety minute, intermissionless piece. And speaking of “ten”, this cast rates a ten out of ten, as does this production, which certainly gives a whole new meaning to the term “immersive”.

We first encounter the title song accompanying a dance by The Whore (Lauren Eicher) and The Soldier (Sean Patrick Gibbons). Then The Nurse (Aubin Wise) contemplates the loss of her virginity to the Soldier in the songs “Zei Gezent” (with a nod to the Andrews Sisters), “I Gotta Little Time”, and “We Kiss”. The Nurse meets and conquers The College Boy (Andrew Spatafora) with the song “In Some Other Life”. He in turn hooks up with The Young Wife (Sarah Talbot) in a movie theater showing an Astaire/Rogers flick in the song “Story of My Life”. The Young Wife substitutes a pillow for herself next to The Husband (Jared Dixon) to the songs “At the Prom”, “Ah Maein Zeit!”, and “Tom”. Next LaChiusa puts a more modern spin when The Husband meets The (not-so-very-innocent) Young Thing (Spatafora) to the tune of “Listen to the Music”, and said Young Thing subsequently takes up with The Writer (Gibbons) with a series of songs, aboard the Titanic no less, “Montage”, “Safe”, and “The One I Love”. The Writer survives to be overtaken by The Actress (Wise) in the song “Silent Movie”. She then attempts to seduce The Senator (Dixon) with the songs “Rock with Rock”, “Angel of Mercy”, and “Mistress of the Senator”. Finally, the Senator encounters The Whore, with the song “The Bed Was Not My Own”, and a reprise of “Hello Again”, completing the cycle. The scenes aren’t chronological, but there are common threads and a ubiquitous brooch. By the time all the combinations and permutations have spun, there’s been a lot of sex, thankfully simulation rather than stimulation.

Just as the Off-Broadway conception was fundamentally a collaboration between LaChiusa and Choreographer Graciela Daniele, so here the production is an expertly collaborative effort, this time between Director Michael Bello and Choreographer Stephen Ursprung, as well as their technical crew. Their ingenious elements are all superb, especially given the limitations of the venue. The Scenic Design by Anne Sherer is spare but effective, as is the Lighting Design by Chris Bocchiaro. The Musical Direction by Mindy Cimini, Reeds by Thomas Carroll, and Percussion by Colin Fleming, are as harmonious as the musical score itself, covering several styles of music over the decades. The Costume Design by Kathleen Doyle is especially clever in keeping the chronology straight.

When seen in New York two decades ago, the work was a revelation, not just of LaChiusa’s brilliance, which has yet to catch on with critics or the general public to the extent that it should (it ran just over a hundred performances), but also of the several opportunities for actors to shine. That original cast of ten was a who’s-going-to-be-who; the same might well be said for this cast.

Underground Railway's "Brundibar": This "Giraffe" Has Legs

"Brundibar" & "But the Giraffe!" 

Underground Railway’s latest production at Central Square Theater is the children’s opera “Brundibar”. Originally performed by children at a Prague orphanage, subsequently by them when they were transported to the Terezin concentration camp in 1944 (in what is now the Czech Republic), with music by Hans Krasa and libretto by Adolf Hoffmeister, this version was adapted by Tony Kushner. It‘s presented here with its companion piece, a prequel, Kushner‘s “But the Giraffe!”.

Directed by Scott Edmiston, “Brundibar” is the fairy tale of two penniless children, Aninku (Rebecca Klein) and her brother Pepicek (Alec Shiman), who need to purchase milk for their ailing mother, so they sing in the public marketplace to earn the money. They’re thwarted by the evil Brundibar, an organ grinder (John F. King). With the help of the other children in the town, as well as a sparrow (Debra Wise), a cat (Christie Lee Gibson), and a dog (Phil Berman), they chase the organ grinder away, but he warns he will return. The presence of what appears to be a kindly policeman (Jeremiah Kissel) is misleadingly reassuring. The story concerns the triumph over tyranny by some seemingly helpless children, as well as, more subliminally, the power of art to uplift and transform.

The curtain-raiser “But the Giraffe!” takes place in the cheery bedroom of little Eva (Nora Iammarino), who is told by her mother (Gibson) that they are moving to “some place nice”, though we in the audience know better. So do her father (Berman) and grandfather (Kissel), but they keep the truth from her, even as they sport those unmissable big yellow stars. The dilemma facing Eva is that she must choose between taking her stuffed giraffe, Uncle All-Neck, and the score for an opera composed by a Mr. Krasa and in the possession of her Uncle Rudy (Patrick Varner); there’s no room to take both. Her grandmother (Wise) is wise about giraffes, but it falls to Uncle Rudy to tell Eva the score.

As a brief double bill, running just an hour and a half, this is perfect for children (perhaps “of all ages”, as they say, but adults may find Kushner’s contribution too simplistic). It’s a fine start for a more serious follow-up discussion with children as to what was really going on with this relocation. The fact that the opera was initially used as a propaganda piece doesn’t diminish the poignancy of the banishing of Brundibar (though the point was better made in the book version illustrated by Maurice Sendak when he portrayed him with a Hitler mustache). Unfortunately, as history records, evil has a way of cropping up again.


Huntington's "Seagull": A Bucket List Check-Off

Kate Burton and Marc Vietor in "Seagull"
(Photo: T. Charles Erickson)
If you’ve been waiting for a flawless production of Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull”, you may now cross it off your bucket list. Huntington Theatre Company’s current production of the play is as close to sheer perfection as one could hope for. First produced unsuccessfully in 1896, but since then recognized as Chekhov’s finest full-length play, this is a work filled with actors’ dream roles (and this is a dream cast). Thus it’s no wonder that Kate Burton chose this piece to add yet another triumphant performance to her estimable list of credits with this company. Here wonderfully directed by Maria Aitken (remembered for her helming of previous Huntington efforts such as “The 39 Steps”, “The Cocktail Hour”, and “Private Lives”), the play showcases not only Burton but a large and amazingly talented cast. This version is clearly a comedy (as Chekhov himself felt), even though its larger-than-life characters experience various feelings of failure in their lives, all of them speaking with the intensity so typical of his countrymen. The translation by the late Paul Schmidt is a bit anachronistic here and there: “aspirin” for “valerian drops”, or the story of one mistaken actor’s substitution in a performance of the word “crap” (rather than “tap”) for the word “trap”. Overall, however, this version makes the play more accessible.

As with much of Chekhov, a scorecard with the names and numbers of the players wouldn’t hurt. The action takes place toward the end of the nineteenth century in the house and garden of Pyotr Sorin (Thomas Derrah), as his sister Irina Arkadina, a.k.a. Madame Treplev (Kate Burton), an actress, is visiting her playwright son Konstantin Treplev (Morgan Ritchie) with her lover, successful writer Boris Trigorin (Ted Koch). Ilya Shamrayev, Sorin’s steward (Don Sparks), his wife Paulina (Nancy E. Carroll) and daughter Masha (Meredith Holzman) are also present as Konstantin prepares to put on a makeshift performance of his latest work with aspiring actress Nina Zarechnaya (Auden Thornton), daughter of a wealthy landowner. Nina makes the first of several allusions to the titular bird, stating that she is attracted to the estate as if she were a seagull. Also on hand are Yevgeny Dorn, a doctor (Marc Vietor) and Semyon Medvedenko, a poor schoolmaster (Nael Nacer). Again as with much of Chekhov, there are various amorous complications, often unrequited ones: the schoolteacher loves Masha who loves Konstantin who in turn loves Nina, and so on. The remainder of this production’s cast includes Yaakov, a laborer (Kyle Cherry), a Cook (June Baboian), a Maid (Melissa Jesser), and a Servant (Jeff Marcus). This is one wondrous troupe.

The black-clad Masha (the hilariously dour Holzman) at the very beginning of the play exclaims: “I am in mourning for my life”. Hers is but one of several existential crises suffered by characters in the play, notably all those unrequited lovers. Chekhov’s central theme is generally accepted to be the impossibility of love; all four artists (Arkadina, Trigorin, Treplev and Nina) are in love, none of them successfully; each also finds her or his identity in work, or from admiration by others. They struggle between their creativity and real emotions, taking refuge in accepted literary expressions rather than revealing their true feelings.

As would be expected for a play more than a century old, this work has been critiqued and analyzed to a fare-thee-well, even being compared to “Hamlet”. Other themes that have been proposed are the banality of existence and one’s independence (the seagull first symbolizing freedom, later more dependence). Whatever a theatergoer takes from this work, it has surely withstood the test of time. It remains one of the most respected plays in the theatrical pantheon. As performed by this incomparable cast, bringing out many of the play’s strengths, it’s not difficult to see why. Particularly outstanding are the tormented Ritchie and the driven Thornton, as well as, not surprisingly, Burton as the self-centered diva. But even the smaller roles, such as Carroll’s hysterically frustrated Paulina or Nacer’s hapless and hopeless Semyon, are played to the hilt. Then there’s Derrah’s ironic Sorin, punctuating many a line with the useless phrase “or something”. Not for a moment did anyone in the cast seem less than natural and astonishingly real. The technical credits are all up to the company’s traditional standards, from the beautiful Scenic Design by Ralph Funicello (a rising moon over the garden filled with birches, the inviting parlor), to the lovely and varied Costume Design by Robert Morgan (especially for Burton), to the intricate Lighting Design by James F. Ingalls and atmospheric Sound Design by Drew Levy, with effective Original Music Composition by Mark Bennett.

The successful history of “The Seagull” (once past that inauspicious premiere) is proof positive that “classics” are classified as such for a reason. This “Seagull”, even after taxidermy, could easily find a further life in the theater, as it’s certainly worthy of Broadway. Or something.


New Rep's "Tongue of a Bird": Femmes of a Feather Fly

The cast of "Tongue of a Bird"
(Photo: Rob Lorino)
New Rep’s current production, “Tongue of a Bird”, by Ellen McLaughlin, is the first work of the Inaugural Season of New Rep’s proposed annual Black Box Festival, focusing on themes of dignity and discovery. It’s a promising, if not totally fulfilling, beginning to an admirable plan to present newly minted plays; this season’s efforts will include two one person pieces, “Our Lady” and “In Between”. This initial play concerns women who seek to find a lost loved one or to fly away, like a bird caught in a chimney trying to escape, hoping against hope. It’s worth noting that not only is the entire cast and the director female, but also half of the technical crew. (Though perhaps we’re almost at a place where this need not be deemed noteworthy). Based on the results of so much estrogen in this production, it could be said that it’s past time that we garnered the fruits of a particularly feminine perspective.

Thanks to the talent of a remarkable quintet of fine actresses, ranging in vintage from a sixth grader to an artistic veteran, the mythic roles of women searching and rescuing, being found or not, are presented with haunting imagery. Maxine (a mesmerizing Elizabeth Anne Rimar) is an emotionally scarred pilot with a perfect record of finding those who have been lost. She flies to her childhood home in the snowy Adirondacks to search for Charlotte (the astonishly polished Claudia Q. Nolan, on the brink of becoming a teenager), a missing twelve year old girl. Maxine reestablishes contact there with Zofia (the unforgettable Bobbie Steinbach), her eccentric Polish refugee grandmother. Through her dreams, Maxine is forced to confront memories of her mother, who committed suicide when she was a child herself. She has been hired by Charlotte’s desperate mother Dessa (the powerful Ilyse Robbins) who refuses to accept the likely truth. As the play progresses, Maxine’s dead mother Evie (a complex Olivia D’Ambrosio) makes several well timed appearances. Not surprisingly, given that the playwright herself once appeared as a hovering angel in the original “Angels in America”, other productions of “Tongue of a Bird” have featured Maxine’s angelic mother flying, literally.

Program notes depict the play as a re-thinking of the Greek myth of Demeter searching for Persephone, with Zofia the truth-telling oracle. McLaughlin speaks of the tongues of women blackened by rubber used in electroshock therapy, and many avian images. The concept of flight, literal and figurative, is central to her play, repeated often in her “megametaphorizing” manner. Her words can be virtually poetic at times, but often seem the result of well-intentioned overwriting. It’s the sort of work that must read better than it plays. Thanks to the expert performances of the cast, it nearly overcomes what could all too easily be viewed as pretentious. At times, the dialogue even comes perilously close to the level of a Hallmark card or a fortune cookie, but McLaughlin searches for our attention and rescues it just in the nick of time. As tightly directed by Emily Ranii, with effectively coordinated Lighting Design by Dan Alaimo and Sound Design by Edward Young, as well as simple Scenic and Properties Design by Courtney Nelson and well conceived Costume Design by Chelsea Kerl and Projection Design by Matthew Haber, it emerges as a very cohesive production.

As the first in what is hoped to be a significant series of new works for the theater, “Tongue of a Bird” is the sort of play audiences may flock to. After all, as the program notes also attest, we are all daughters and sons. If this production is sometimes too earthbound in the writing, in the performances of this stellar cast, it soars.