SALT LAKE CITY — The Birdsinger, produced by the Great Bear Folk Theatre of Rexburg, ID, was a beautiful story of healing. I was really looking forward to this show because the premise is what I feel our country needs to improve quality of life. It is about a young girl who has felt such powerful grief that she flees her life and gets lost in nature, and she eventually finds relief through the connection to animals and creation.
The story was primarily told through song, and I was happy to hear Isabel Hansen’s beautiful voice, as she played the main girl, the Birdsinger. She could hit such lovely high notes, adding some of what seemed her own additions to the ends of tunes, which added to the beauty and ethnic feeling in the sound. I wished Isabel Hansen had more command of the stage in a performing sense, because it would have added so much to the show to see her getting more into her character, looking out at the audience as her character, and moving with certain parts of the story in character.
The story and music was written by Omar Hansen, who also performed as part narrator, raven, Snallygaster, and others. Omar Hansen did a wonderful job with the songs, as the tunes were beautiful and fit the cultures I imagined he was intertwining, namely Native American and European immigrants who came as pioneers. In the story, I thought it was beautiful that a non-native could find the peace and solace in that land that the Native American cultures were known for being so connected to. I loved how the story progressed from beast to beast, with the one terrible monster to block the main character’s path at various times. I do wish this contrast had been more intense, not in the performance, which was fantastic (Omar Hansen made a mean Snallygaster), but in the writing, which could have made Snallygaster much more sinister and invasive, given the premise of the show. I also thought some of the advice and help from the caring animals was too vague or contradictory to be useful, and I wished it was more clear and specific as to what the Birdsinger could do to find space for herself.
Lori Hansen primarily narrated, but she also played a Coyote extremely well. I enjoyed Lori Hansen’s motherly kindness as her character toward the Birdsinger and how that character walked the Birdsinger through the most difficult part of her path. Lori Hansen also had a commanding presence on the stage and could distinctly switch from one character to another, making it easy for me to follow what was happening.
Kira Burns directed the show, and I enjoyed her addition of a dancer to accentuate the story through movement. When a buffalo came, the dancer used a stick wreath with horns as a simple expression of said buffalo and moved around the stage in larger, slower, meandering movements, while Omar Hansen talked as the animal. Burns came back on with a creepy double-sided mask, walking upside down on hands and feet like a crab, whenever the story brought up the Snallygaster, and it made those scenes all the more eerie. I do wish Burns had added more direction to the other three players, because they primarily stayed in one spot or said they would do something and then didn’t actually physically move to do it.
I would have liked the play to be more dynamic overall, because although it was beautiful and the story was heartening, I wanted it to be more fulfilling and more easily able to be applied to life now. Despite those criticisms, the show is still a good one to see, and the music is definitely worth the hearing! I love folksy shows and am so grateful that Great Bear Folk Theatre is producing shows like this.