Sorry, Hitchcock. You've Been Upstaged.

You don’t have to see the birds to feel them—or fear them. As sounds of wildly flapping wings and cringe-inducing caws surround you, it’s as if you, too, are trapped inside a drafty farmhouse, being held hostage by Mother Nature and all her vengeance.

The Birds is perfectly suited for the Guthrie Theater’s most intimate stage, the Dowling Studio. The space can feel either roomy or claustrophobic (you can guess which atmosphere the crew created for this play). It doesn’t take long to get sucked into the script thanks to Scott W. Edwards’s surround-sound noises and Wilson Chin’s carefully cluttered set, and soon it’s hard to determine where the stage ends and reality begins.

Drawing you further into Daphne du Maurier’s eerie end-of-the-world story are actors J.C. Cutler, Summer Hagen, Angela Timberman, and Stephen Yoakam. Director Henry Wishcamper does an excellent job channeling each individual’s artistic strengths, resulting in a cast that brings a wealth of depth and intensity to every  scene. The vulnerability and chemistry among the foursome creates a tangible tension, an electric feeling of uncertainty that’s all too easy to identify with.

The Birds

Aaron Fenster

Cutler’s Nat swings between strong and stable, and erratic and impulsive. His unpredictability is nerve-wracking, and yet he’s too genuine to dislike. Julia, on the other hand, is easy to hate. She’s a latecomer to the farmhouse where Diane and Nat have sought refuge from the murderous birds, and she brings with her a mysterious sense of unease and distrust. Diane, the matriarch and rock of this misfit makeshift family, appears to be the most stable of the three, and Timberman makes you empathize with the turbulence Diane feels as she battles emotions ranging from love to hate to fear to anger. Making a short appearance is Tierney, the reclusive, socially awkward (yet highly intuitive) neighbor—a role in which Yoakam shines. The character simultaneously appears trustworthy and dangerous. You want to like him, but you don’t know if you can—or should.

But, as in real life, the people who appear most threatening on the outside don’t always pose the greatest danger. As the characters spiral in and out of dismay, and panic settles in for good, the fear and loathing that once were directed at the birds find new targets. Soon, it becomes unclear who exactly is the enemy. And by the time you do find out…well, then it’s too late.

The Birds
Through April 8
$29-$39, general admission
Guthrie Theater, 818 S. Second St., Mpls., 612-377-2224