The Colonel Bird | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Colonel Bird


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The Colonel Bird, Journeymen, at Holy Covenant United Methodist Church. The timing for this production couldn't be better. Bulgarian playwright Hristo Boytchev sets his play in a former monastery now used as a psychiatric ward, deep in the Balkan mountains during the Bosnian war. A young doctor is sent to tend to six patients: an actor, a thief, a former corporal, a female customs agent, a very small man who fears being stepped on, and the Colonel. They are war-damaged, forgotten, stranded without food or medication, and no one has heard the Colonel speak in three years. When UN peacekeeping planes mistakenly drop humanitarian-aid boxes in their yard, the Colonel revives to become their leader, and they declare themselves an independent European entity.

Boytchev's beautiful allegorical writing shines through despite a partially realized production. Staging the play in a church contributes magnificent production values to a sparse set made up of little more than a few army cots. And though the quixotic idea that all great dreams require some degree of madness is a comfortable old shoe, in this time of conflict we're more than ready to try it on again.

Though each actor delivers an interesting, sympathetic character, the performances never fuse into a whole. Frank Pullen's staging captures the characters' humanity, but the actors' dual pretense of mental illness and Bosnian accents too clearly reveals the wheels turning, impeding the comic timing needed to maintain a lively pace.

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