That Alfred Hitchcock classic, “The Birds,” has no doubt been perched in your consciousness for years. But “A Map of Virtue,” Erin Courtney’s strange, subtly haunting 90-minute psychological thriller, might very well vie for some space for itself on some empty branch in your imagination.
At turns creepy and poetic — and at times stretching belief just a bit too far — Courtney’s play, full of avian imagery, is now taking wing in a production by the fledgling COR Theatre. And while the drama never completely explains itself, that turns out to be part of its elusive charm. What Courtney does do is to suggest the unpredictable intersecting coordinates in people’s lives. In a sense, she gives us a map of human destiny based on the confluence of experience, personality and inadvertent (as well as planned) human interaction as it is manifest by five people and one very wise “bird.” And she suggests that almost every step we take in life has consequences.
‘A MAP OF VIRTUE’ RECOMMENDED When: Through Feb.14 Where: COR Theatre at Rivendell Theatre, 5779 N. Ridge Tickets: $25 Info: (866) 811-4111; http://www.cortheatre.org Run time: 90 minutes with no intermission
Supplying the bits of poetry and “scene headings” here (Curiosity, Loyalty, Empathy, Honesty, Integrity, Love, Intuition) is an anthropomorphic “Bird Statue,” deftly played by Scottie Caldwell, whose voice and body language suggest just the right amount of grace and omnipotence.
But the story really begins when two people sitting in a diner spot each other and sense a connection. Sarah (Mallory Nees, an attractive redhead just enigmatic enough in the role of youthful bohemian) has tattoos of two blue swallows on her chest, and this catches the eye of Mark (Will Von Vogt), who keeps a journal, and who just happens to have a small bird statue in his pocket. Nothing happens right away, but the paths of these two people cross again and again. Along the way Sarah marries Nate (Nick Mikula), and makes a career with much-lauded paintings of birds. Only later will she learn more about Mark’s obsession with his tiny bird sculpture.
Meanwhile, Mark, who is gay, forges a relationship with the good-looking Victor (Ruben Adorno). And life begins to look up for all involved until Sarah, Nate and Mark gather at a party and encounter the restless June (Eleni Pappageorge). She invites them to her country house, and they all pile into her car. But once they arrive really horrifying things begin to happen, with June’s warped partner, Ray (Adam Benjamin), heavily involved.
Under Tosha Fowler’s ideally orchestrated, mood-shifiting direction, the actors keep ambiguity and ambivalence in flight. Set designer Tierra G. Novy’s set — with its delicate curtains of gray origami birds — is a genuine beauty. And Jeffrey Levin’s music and sound design are truly “Hitchkockian” in their ability to heighten the fear factor.