Adapted by James Glossman from Jim Lehrer's sprawling 2004 novel, "Flying Crows" christens a new season for Playwrights Theater with a multi-layered drama in which four actors assume the roles of over two dozen characters.

Adapted by James Glossman from Jim Lehrer’s sprawling 2004 novel, “Flying Crows” christens a new season for Playwrights Theater with a multi-layered drama in which four actors assume the roles of over two dozen characters. Despite a rambling narrative that spans seven decades in addition to a brief recall of the Civil War, the tale is told in clear and direct terms in Glossman’s staging.

Given a lunatic edge by Anthony Blaha, principal figure Birdie has been living in the soon-to-be-demolished Kansas City railroad station for more than 60 years, harboring blood-stained memories of a gang massacre in the ’30s. Attempting to unravel those elusive events of the past is an investigative detective played by Dan Domingues, who doubles as Amos, a vicious asylum guard fond of wielding a padded baseball bat.

A penetrating sidebar story is provided by Josh (Reathel Bean), who apparently murdered his parents and siblings with a pitchfork as a youngster. Bean’s varied roles provide insightful narrative linkage and his performance adds glue to the mix.

Femme roles are keenly realized by Prentiss Benjamin, including a Harvey Girl waitress and a coldly cruel asylum medic eager to remove a diseased brain from a living patient. In marked contrast, she has an amusing turn as Sister Hilda, who reads poetry to the inmates and ultimately falls prey to a seductive Birdie.

Glossman has staged the play with a fluent hand and his adaptation sticks close to Lehrer’s compelling page-turner. The play has a cinematic thrust, with an escape route provided by the luxurious streamlined passenger train of the Kansas City Southern line, the Flying Crow.

Designed by Drew Francis, the sparsely furnished set makes good use of a half-dozen rocking chairs to define a mental institution, with varied locales illustrated by projected screen imagery. John Wade’s lighting design offers stealthy insight into mood and movement, while period pace is accented by the plucking sound of dust bowl banjos.

Flying Crows

Playwrights Theater; Madison, N.J.; 115 seats; $27.50 top

Production

A Playwrights Theater presentation of a play in two acts written and directed by James Glossman, adapted from the novel by Jim Lehrer.

Creative

Set, Drew Francis; costumes, Bettina P. Bierly; lighting, John Wade; sound, multimedia design, Jeff Knapp; production stage manager, Danielle Constance. Opened, reviewed Feb. 1, 2008. Runs through Feb. 17. Running time: 2 HOURS, 25 MIN.

Cast

Josh, Luke, Harry Leonard - Reathel Bean EMT, Lawrence, Aunt Mary, Janice, Hilda, Dr. Mayfield - Prentiss Benjamin Birdie, Marshall Lloyd, Jules Perkins - Anthony Blaha Lt. Randy Benton, Amos, Dr. Will Mitchell - Dan Domingues
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