Cal Rep’s ‘The Hyacinth Macaw’ baffles, falls short

Imagine two hours of Mad Hatter-esque speak in which the dialogue is completely nonsensical. Unfortunately, that is what the California Repertory Company’s production of Mac Wellman’s “The Hyacinth Macaw” seems to revolve around. However, the strange dialogue does not contribute to the play’s effect, like it does in “Alice in Wonderland.” Instead, it is all-around confusing, which might be its point, but it ultimately becomes distracting, leaving the audience with unanswered questions. Probably the biggest question: “What did I just pay to see?”

From what I understood of the science-fiction play, it centered on the Mordent family, who is visited by Mister William Hard (Jerry Prell). Hard acknowledges Susannah (Anna Steers), the Mordent teenage daughter, as an orphan, which she quickly protests. Hard then tells the family that the head of the household, Ray (Craig Anton), is merely a duplicate and must leave so Hard can take his place. From there, things get even weirder and more confusing.

The family seems to be taken over by a spell, as if they were possessed into saying only nonsensical things, which causes the audience to be in a state of confusion for the play’s entirety.

Sure, there are some comical moments in the play, but they are ultimately stemmed from randomness and awkward situations that the audience has a hard time understanding. Such instances include Ray and Hard swapping pants when they switch roles and Hard eating a beetle. Scenes like these cause uproars of laughter in the audience, only because it is difficult to understand their significance, other than to add to the play’s oddity.

The cast does a fine job acting out their strange characters, but their talents do not make up for the puzzling script. Prell and Anton are both convincing as mad men, but the true comedic moments come from Mad Wu (Simon Brooke), who plays a minor role in the play. He stands out only because he is a white man portraying an Asian man who repeats, “I’m from China!” Perhaps it was director Jim Martin’s intention to cast Brooke as Wu for extra comedic elements, but the casting is almost too unrealistic to take seriously.

Steers is charming and believable in the beginning of the play, but as it progresses, she seems to become over-dramatic. She tears up at arguably unnecessary places in the script and shows off absurd facial gestures, overreacting to every statement.

Although their choice of script isn’t completely favorable, Cal Rep almost makes up for it with their set design. A setting sun and rising moon add a touch of realism to this unrealistic play and a giant sandbox makes it look like it’s taking place outdoors.

The cast also does a fine job at breaking the fourth wall, which is the invisible wall separating the characters on stage from the audience. They walk in the aisles of the audience, making it easier to engage with them.

Overall, Cal Rep should be noted for their cast and set and the real negatives only lie with their poor choice in a script. “The Hyacinth Macaw” runs at the Queen Mary until March 12, with showings Wednesday through Saturday. Tickets cost $15 for students and $20 for general admission. For more information, visit calrep.org.

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