Another day, another zoo trip.
But today’s outing was more delightful than normal. The crystalline weather with its slightly cool breeze helped, as did the paucity of crowds. The animals were compelling–they can’t help themselves. But best of all? The World of Birds show was finally open for business!
Back in MJ’s more tender years–as in, when she was one or two–this fantastic “live bird” extravaganza was the high point of our zoo trips. Then suddenly, about year and a half ago, it shut down for “restoration” and never re-opened. Over time, MJ forgot about it entirely. Cut to the present; she is obsessed with birds. We hear the show is back up and running. But then there are further delays. Wait–there’s going to be an opening day. It gets pushed back. We are dying. The anticipation is killing us.
Then today we learn it is really, truly, open at last. Finally! Having the morning free, we race to see it.
And it’s fantastic. Not in the way you might think–it is far from the well-honed performance it used to be. In the previous incarnation of “World of Birds,” every winged cast member knew its cue, had its “lines” down, and performed its part flawlessly. Ravens sorted trash with adeptness, peregrin falcons dove fiercely for prey, and giant eagles darted gracefully from point A to point B, wowed their spectators, then disappeared into the wings. (Not their own, of course.)
Today’s “World of Birds” is more like community theater. With child actors. During try-outs. It’s a fantastic melodrama of chaos, missed cues, unplanned entrances, and unexplained pauses. I loved it. MJ loved it. Talk about being behind the scenes. There are no scenes. It’s as if Bertolt Brecht got drunk and wrote the script, then crumpled it up and fed it to his parakeet.
My favorite moment? One of the two emcees waits for a small Hawaiian owl to land on her head. The gimmick is that she will not hear it coming–an owl’s flight is soundless. She sits patiently on a rock, wearing a hat, acting unexpectant. Except that the owl doesn’t come. Oh, it comes on stage, alright, but refuses to go anywhere near her. It flits from one perch to another, from roof to parapet of the Kafka-esque set, but to her head it refuses to fly. Finally the hostess grows curious. She turns and cranes her neck to see it. The owl ignores her. He eats a treat thrown his way, then flies into a nearby tree.
“You know what they say,” jokes the other host gamely. “Never work with children or animals.”
Suddenly, from a window high up in the set, a giant bird hurls in. It is an owl. An enormous, beefy, fierce-looking owl. The Schwarzenegger of owls. Dark grey, it swoops towards the seated hostess on silent wings. But she is still looking that way. She sees him coming. Her eyes grow wide. Into her little mouth mic she yells “NOOOO!”
Then she clutches at her hat and dashes behind a rock.
Schwarzenegger flaps lazily from one end of the stage to the other, clearly bemused by the sudden disappearance of his prey.
The other host speaks with false cheer into her microphone, which is suddenly on the blitz: “Well, you guys, that—static static–to happen. That’s Harvey, our–static–owl, and if he lands on–static static–it’ll–static static static–pretty painful.”
Eventually, with the help of a shuffling trainer from backstage, they manage to get Harvey off stage. But from that point forward nothing else goes right. The remaining birds take turns stymying their trainers in every way they can. It is awkward, confusing, delightful, and hilarious, and I can only say I wish the World of Birds would remain exactly as it is now. Talk about great theater.
“Be sure to come back again soon,” our resolute hostess said at the conclusion of the show. “We’re still teaching the birds how to do this thing, and we’re breaking new ones in literally every week.”
Oh, I’ll be back, alright. I’ll be back.
I’m hoping Schwarzenegger will be too.