‘Squawk’ sings success

by David Dixon

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If only Ellis Pearson and Bheki Mkhwane could take a trip to San Diego. These two South African theater artists, collaborators no more, would be amazed at San Diego State’s new production of their short theatrical piece “Squawk.”

The rather loose narrative takes place in a world run by birds. In order to restore balance to their chaotic land, the birds decide to take part in a peace-singing competition. Things quickly get out of hand when each member of the population tries to be the lead singer of the event.

A morality tale for all ages, there are some tongue-in-cheek references to South Africa and the prejudice that has affected its people. What makes these allusions clever is the universal message that stems from them: People all around the world fail to realize not everyone is willing to cooperate with one another.

As a child-friendly performance, there might be some concern regarding whether the lesson is too preachy. However, the big moment is handled in a lighthearted fashion, fitting for this show.

Audience members will likely be unaware of how much interaction is required of them in “Squawk.” Though some people will have more to do on stage than others, everybody who enters the Experimental Theatre is going to be a part of the action.

Relax; no audience-recruited cast member is going to have anything too embarrassing happen to him or her. This is not “Hair,” with actors comedically mortifying theatergoers by having them take part in R-rated hijinks. (For the record, “Hair” is a great musical. It is just not for the very young.)

Participants go on stage to take part in key moments that include dancing, judging the singers and playing some instruments in the finale. At times, it seems similar to participating in a theme park extravaganza, and that is meant as a compliment. In fact, “Squawk” is pure, unadulterated fun.

A major contributing factor to the success of the performance is the very funny ensemble. Watching Deisha Fisher, Adrian Alita, David Butler, DeAndre Clay and Vincent Cozzolino physically and vocally adapt to strange situations is impressive. Hearing them successfully mimic the sounds of chickens and ducks earns plenty of laughs.

These are very demanding roles and it is incredible how much is asked of each actor. This is especially true of Fisher, who seemed to be ad-libbing quite a bit of dialogue when getting people to volunteer during the opening night performance.

Jennifer Imbler, properties master for “Squawk,” used offbeat props such as gigantic bags to mimic the sound of bird flight and umbrellas to represent crows. The results are hilarious.

Margaret Larlham has directed a highly satisfying, imaginative and innovative family tale that might make the two visionary creators wish they were still working together.

Tickets and information about “Squawk” can be found at theatre.sdsu.edu.

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