Fans of Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds might be surprised to discover that it is radically different from the Daphne du Maurier novella on which it’s based. (Du Maurier set her story in England shortly after World War II.) Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s stage adaptation, opening at the Guthrie this month, is radically different from either of its predecessors.
McPherson sets his play in the present, in an isolated 19th-century farmhouse, where a group of strangers seeks refuge from the birds. According to director Henry Wishcamper, who has directed McPherson’s work off-Broadway, “The playwright’s interest is in what happens to people after the social construct is torn asunder. After the birds’ attack, this is a world without civilization as we know it.”
Where the story and the film are about man vs. nature, the play focuses on the interaction of individuals. That’s not to say that the existence of the birds won’t be keenly felt. But they will be only an auditory experience. In surround sound, it will seem as if they are attacking from all around the theater.
“In the play, suspense is created in a very different way [than in the film],” Wishcamper says. “With the single set and the ever-present birds, the experience becomes claustrophobic for the characters and for the audience as well.” Feb. 25–April 8. Guthrie Theater, 612-377-2224, guthrietheater.org