The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings

SEARCH CurtainUp 


Letters to Editor 




NEWS (Etcetera)   

BOOKS and CDs 
(with Amazon search)  

DC (Washington)   
Los Angeles   




Free Updates   
Type too small?   
NYC Weather   


A CurtainUp Review The Green Bird

By Les Gutman

It is as easy to make a true friend
as to wipe your ass on a rose.
A. Weems and D. Smith
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

The Green Bird flies from 18th Century commedia dell' arte to 21st Century in-your-face performance art in a New York minute. It takes a willing audience under its wing, and gloriously transports it in ways theater ought to but rarely does. 

A willing audience? In order to embrace this show, adults must seek out the child-like imagination buried within them, and their children must grow up, perhaps a bit before their time. (As to the appropriateness of the show for kids, see Elyse Sommer's postscript below.)  In either case, it's well worth the effort. 

On the bones of Carlo Gozzi's fable, Julie Taymor has built another fantastic spectacle of masks, puppets and people, exhibiting the same sort of artistry and genius that still has people lined up months in advance to buy tickets to her staging of The Lion King.  (For the record, The Green Bird was originally staged off-Broadway before Lion King.) It's a small story, the kind that might be the subject of a high school thespian society pageant, unapologetically catapulted into a Broadway extravaganza with boundless ambitions, the transformation fueled by the unlikely combination of wild invention and simple craft. 
The play is set in the imaginary city of Monterotondo and several other fanciful locales. While the nincompoop King Tartaglia (Derek Smith) is away, his queen, Ninetta (Kristine Nielsen), gives birth to twins, Barbarina (Katie MacNichol) and Renzo (Sebastian Roche). His incomparably wicked mother, Tartagliona (Edward Hibbert), orders a servant, Pantalone (Andrew Weems), to lock the queen in the cellar and throw the babies in the river. Pantalone first wraps them securely in oilcloth, a gesture which saves their lives since they are soon found by a butcher, Truffaldino (Ned Eisenberg) and his wife, Smeraldina (Didi Conn), who raise them. Meanwhile, Ninetta languishes in Tartagliona's prison, kept alive by regular visits from The Green Bird, a vibrant puppet operated and voiced by Bruce Turk. Tartagliona's evil is abetted by a soothsayer, Brighella (Reg E. Cathey), here portrayed as a Rastafarian whose chants include a melting pot of contemporary references, from television commercials to Three Dog Night. Elliot Goldenthal's edgy music provides the underscoring, and all of this before the play in chief begins. 

As the twins mature, they come to realize something is amiss, and commence a search for truth and, as happens, fortune. Their adventure (fairly reminiscent of Dorothy's in the Land of Oz) we see played out to its joyful conclusion. To describe it in detail would suggest that Taymor's often breathtaking vision can be reduced to words. Suffice it to say it includes time spent in the company of Singing Apples (Sophia Salguero, who does most of the singing, with Meredith Patterson and Sarah Jane Nelson) -- one of the most outlandish visual images you're ever likely to see onstage; Dancing Waters (Erico Villanueva, principally, and Ramon Flowers) -- one of the most stunning images; an enormous serpentine puppet aptly named Sepentina (Voice of Lee Lewis); one beautiful statue, Pompea (Lee Lewis), that comes to life; another enormous statue, made of stone with moving eyes and mouth but, alas, a broken nose, Calmon (the booming voice of Andrew Weems); and a variety of others far too numerous to mention. 

All of the above cannot (and does not) undercut the incredible, expressive masks Ms. Taymor has designed for all but two of the performers (the kids get to appear in their own faces), or Constance Hoffman's beautiful, playful cartoon-worthy wardrobe of costumes. Christine Jones wisely takes the uncomplicated route to set design, augmenting an almost blank slate with wonderfully suitable elements as needed, further aided by Donald Holder's elaborate lighting. 

One should also not conclude that this orgy of design elements means that performances in The Green Bird are relegated to second fiddle. They are, almost without exception, wonderful, a fact rendered all the more astonishing when we consider how much "acting" is normally performed with the face and eyes that are here obscured. 

I've been a huge fan of Derek Smith since he took my breath away as Prince Hal in The Shakespeare Theatre's production in DC of Henry IV. I've never seen him better than here, telegraphing with every bone in his body the innocence, frustration, idealism and anguish of this lackluster monarch, henpecked not by his wife (effusively if too briefly portrayed by Ms. Nielsen), but by his mother (Edward Hibbert's memorable extravagance). Tartagliona's costume and persona are so eccentric, the fact that Hibbert is in maternal drag is hardly even noticed.

Eisenberg and Conn are as delicious as one would hope their sausages are, sounding more like they sell their meats from a storefront in Flatbush than a courtyard in Venice. Weems is equally appealing, as the nervously dutiful clown-like Pantalone, who wouldn't be lost amidst the canals, endearing Italian accent and all.

Taymor has nearly everyone playing "to the stalls," the broad contemporary humor and anachronistic language and references calculated to make certain this remains a popular entertainment. Those expecting an 18th century fable played as a period piece may be off-put; others may be turned off by the arrant silliness in any event. But as with all of her other choices, Taymor knows precisely what she's doing, and it's a sight to behold.

Postscript by Elyse Sommer

Not having a kid available to test the age appropriateness of The Green Bird, Les and I partnered up to see the show. Julie Taymor and her talented colleagues made it easy for me to locate "the child-like imagination" that's been packed away for periodical retrieval even longer for me than for him. At any rate, to paraphrase a comment made in my review of The Lion King, theater goers who think themselves too adult for a fairy tale about a prince trapped inside a green bird, would do well to remember what Picasso once said:
It took me 30 years to draw like a child again.
That leaves the question: Should you take your kids to see The Green Bird. As Julie Taymor herself admits in a Playbill interview, "It's not that The Green Bird isn't for family. It's just not geared toward family the way The Lion King was." Ms. Taymor is no doubt referring to some of the sexual and scatalogical elements. However, couple the abundance of Lion King type magic with the reality that kids, besides being exposed to much of this so-called "edgy" stuff daily tend to love scatological jokes, and appropriateness is a matter of parental values. Given the show's two-and-a-half hour length, I'd say, don't take any youngster under 8 or 9 which is true for The Music Man, which, even though it sounds more kid-friendly, wasn't written for the age 5 to 8 set either.

Our booming economy notwithstanding, there's also the top ticket price of $75 to consider -- this as compared to the $25 top ticket at the show's original home, The New Victory Theater which happens to be the most family and budget friendly venue of a high professional caliber in town. (I didn't see their production of The Green Bird, but I did see Shockheaded Peter earlier this season and found it had much of The Green Bird's enchantment.

CurtainUp's review of The Lion King 
by Carlo Gozzi, translated by Albert Bermel and Ted Emery 
Additional text by Eric Overmyer, additional lyrics by David Suehsdorf 
Directed by Julie Taymor 
Musical staging by Daniel Ezralow 

with Reg E. Cathey, Andrew Weems, Didi Conn, Ned Eisenberg, Katie MacNichol, Sebastian Roche, Bruce Turk, Kristine Nielsen, Derek Smith, Edward Hibbert, Lee Lewis, Sophia Salguero, Meredith Patterson, Sarah Jane Nelson, Erico Villanueva, Ramon Flowers and Ken Barnett 
Original Music by Elliot Goldenthal 
Set Design: Christine Jones 
Lighting Design: Donald Holder 
Costume Design: Constance Hoffman 
Sound Design: Jon Weston 
Mask and Puppet Design: Ms. Taymor 
Wig/Makeup Design: Steven W. Bryant 
Music Director: Rick Martinez 
Vocal Director: Joe Church 
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission 
Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th Street (6/7 Avs.) (212) 239-6200 
Opened 4/18/2000 
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer and Les Gutman based on 4/27 performance 
Closing 6/04/2000
©Copyright 2000, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from