Stray Cat Theatre's The Sparrow Is for the Birds

Stray Cat Theatre has kicked off its 10th season with a meandering mess of dramatic devices masquerading as a play. A murder mystery of sorts, The Sparrow has broken wings. The real mystery here is why Stray Cat's talented artistic director, Ron May, optioned Chris Mathews and Jake Minton's lifeless small-town tale.

The Sparrow is about Emily Book, a teenager who's returned to her rural hometown 10 years after a mysterious school bus accident killed her entire second-grade class, leaving her as the only survivor. As a high school senior, she goes from being an awkward, half-remembered outsider to being the beloved school mascot because, as we and her classmates discover, she has supernatural powers. Also, she can fly.

It's The Flying Nun meets Carrie. Only boring.

Despite the fact that her character hasn't a single significant speech in the entire play, Alyson Marie Maloney is pleasant in the lead. Surrounded by long-in-the-tooth "teenagers," she makes the very most of the garbled dialogue that poor Emily is handed here. The rest of the cast is made to lug framed photographs (presumably of the deceased youngsters) and a giant doll's house — which I think is meant to indicate that we are now at Emily's place — around with them. These players are better stagehands than they are actors, although in truth they haven't much in the way of dialogue or interesting situations to work with.

The script, conceived by Chicago playwright Nathan Allen, goes nowhere. Studded with monotonous dialogue that does nothing to forward Emily's story, The Sparrow repeatedly grinds to a halt so that we can watch the tedium of high school life — a homecoming dance, a game of dodgeball, a cheerleading routine — reinterpreted as a tedious dance routine. A rock number involving fetal pig puppets isn't entirely awful, and a balletic sequence in which Emily makes schoolbooks fly was interesting, but these bits of pleasure come too late and are surrounded by such inertia that they do little to elevate this long, sleepy story. Such as it is. Where's the revenge scene, where Emily trashes her high school and flash-fries a smart-alecky pom-pom girl? Where's the big revelation about — or even a cogent explanation of — the girl's magical powers? Where's the drama, the comedy, the subtlety? Nowhere, in this disappointing play.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela