Friday, March 16, 2012

The Birds, and Zombies, and Monsters

Oh, my!

Cassie and I went to see The Birds at the Guthrie's Dowling Studio Wednesday evening this week.  Based on Daphne du Maurier's short story of the same name, not Hitchcock's 1963 masterpiece, this play by Conor McPherson departs from both in significant and important ways.  It evokes the claustrophobic "survivors stuck in a stranger's house" trope fleshed out by George Romero in the years since du Maurier and Hitchcock.  It could have been angry birds, killer bees, zombies, or alien invaders outside; the effect of being confined in the house peels the veneer off the terrorized inhabitants all the same.  In time one begins to wonder whether the real monsters are outside the house or hiding inside it.  It's not perfect - it sags from time to time in its intermission-less 95 minutes - but it has its moments, and live theater is always its own sort of special treat.  This production of The Birds even comes with a study guide.  Public rush seating costs $20 Sunday through Thursday evenings and all matinees, and $25 Friday and Saturday evenings.  This will save you $9-14 per ticket.  The Dowling Studio is general admission so show up early and choose a seat that's exactly as good as that secured with full price ticket.  It runs through April 8.

The Walking Dead season finale is this Sunday (already, what is it with these 13 episode cable TV "seasons" with their halfway hiatus anyway?).  I have mixed feelings about the series, but it's the only fresh zombie show in town.  It seems mostly a parable about how difficult it is to protect your family and maintain a sense of community when the chips are down.

Even the spiritually minded Krista Tippett dipped into the genre in a 1 December 2011 On Being episode titled Monsters We Love.  Not her best or most focused work.  It was frustrating to listen to the usually divine Ms. Tippett and her guest, Diane Winston, discussing shows one or the other had not seen.  That, and they got all gaga about vampires, the monster female victims most hope to encounter.

Why do we love apocalypses?  Why are we fascinated with disastrous turns of nature?  What is the attraction of once human monster who now lack personality and volition but present a deadly threat to the living?  Why do we watch - or choose not to watch - Doomsday Preppers or Hoarding: Buried Alive?

Some possible answers have been offered over the years.  Are we embracing the unifying effect of fear, regardless the sort of horror entertainment we're watching?  Indulging our fear of the Other?  Fretting over a fear of loss of control (although that's usually more of a shape shifting werewolf's concern)?  Do our psyches seek release after bearing the numbing weight of terror, war, and recession for more than a decade?  Are we rehearsing our responses to fear and uncertainty?  Or are we engaged in a survivalist revenge fantasy, in which all our frustrations with family, friends, and neighbors can be solved with a head shot, like some real world "first person shooter" video game?  Don't look too close unless you really want to know the answer.