Review: In "Proud," Fair Fowl Fare Forth


Written by Judd Lear Silverman

Directed by Eric Parness

Co-presented by the 14Y Theater and Rising Sun Performance Company at the Theater at the 14th Street Y

344 E 14th St, Manhattan, NYC

February 10-26, 2023

L to R: Rick Benson, Elliot Colby, and Duane Chivon Ferguson. Photo by David Anthony Wayne Anderson.
A band of peacocks parading down a Philadelphia expressway presents, on the one hand, a comic juxtaposition, but on the other hand, these birds on blacktop also evoke the ruinous conflict between human practices and non-human nature that is a central concern of Rising Sun Performance Company's world premiere play Proud. Running in repertory with Rising Sun's Untitled Calamity Jane Play and based on an actual 2018 incident, Proud follows a quartet of peacocks who escape the Philadelphia Zoo and spend part of their several days of freedom walking along the interstate. This journey, imagined as a secret mission, has personal implications for each bird at the same time that it raises larger questions about storytelling, legacy, leadership, and the place of the individual in what amounts to the fate of an interdependent planet.

Rick Benson, Paulina “pau” Tobar.
Photo by David Anthony Wayne Anderson.
The small team of peacocks (a pride is in fact one term applied to a group of peafowl) is led by Tom (Rick Benson), a wholehearted believer in the mission who has the ability to read Feather, the language in which the history and heritage of the species is encoded (and they are very probably not what you think). Dick (Elliot Colby, lending a melancholic complexity to the character) can't read Feather but human language is another matter, and he quotes The Tempest and Hamlet from memory while wondering how the same beings who write beautifully about beauty can be agents of such abject destruction. Prone to distraction by tasty snacks, Harry (a very funny Duane Chivon Ferguson) is, including in his own estimation, a magnificent specimen - a real peahen's man - but also not as young as he once was. Their mission is prompted by chronicles recorded and passed down in Feather, and they enlist Pat (Paulina "pau" Tobar), young enough that his colorful tail has not yet grown in, so that their own exploits in fulfilling the mission might themselves be preserved and passed on to future generations. Pat's presence grounds the narrative in a coming-of-age story, and Tobar brings pitch-perfect energy to this young peacock on the threshold of adulthood and all that it entails (pun very much intended). When all does not go according to plan, it calls into question not only whether they will complete their mission but what that mission actually is, obliging the birds to contemplate not only humanity and their relation to it but also themselves and their relationships to one another.

The cleverly costumed actors playing the peacocks often integrate the birds' characteristic movement into their performances, while the human characters, media and officials (played by Lluvia Almanza, Ben Dworken, Orlando F. Rodriguez, and Jonathan Wong Frye) appear in white masks, bring about an inversion of the deindividualized way in which we tend to perceive non-human animals. As one might expect with talking peacocks, there is a good amount of humor, both character-specific and arising from their species and situation (they know, for example, that humans have taken their first steps to intergalactic travel but seem much less informed about cars); but neither does Proud shy away from affecting and meditative moments, without ever getting too dark. The play frames the beauty of the peacocks as a method of inspiration - though Tom's note that they are "unique" in their beauty is important, gesturing, perhaps, to the fact that beings with no "beauty," what scholar Donna Haraway would include under her capacious umbrella of "critters," are no less deserving of human consideration. Ultimately, Proud suggests that being itself is the message, an admirable, even beautiful proposition. As a production, Proud boasts enough plumage that even Harry would be impressed.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards


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