Something is pecking to get inside the country house in the play "The Birds," now at Mosaic Theatre in Plantation.
And something is threatening to claw its way out, too. In between is where the suspense patiently perches in a drama by Conor McPherson, here directed with a keen sense of anxiousness by John Manzelli.
Based on the 1952 novelette by Daphne Du Maurier that uses birds as a metaphor for the threat of communism (the birds come from the East and attack Cornwall), it's easy to see why Alfred Hitchcock used the story as the inspiration for his 1963 movie version, fascinated as he was by that delicious moment when the psyche goes psycho.
Fowlmageddon has already started when the show opens, and Diane (Kim Cozort) and Nat (Kenneth Kay) have holed up in an abandoned lake house. More or less strangers, the two have struck up an alliance foraging for food and firewood when the bird attacks abate during low tide. The scenes play out like cinematic vignettes, so it's not all that disconcerting when a third character, Julia (Vera Varlamov), with little back story stumbles into the plot, bringing with her sexual tension. Across the lake is gun-toting mystery man Tierney (Kevin Reilley), a clear threat who must be dealt with.
Ah, so you're beginning to see, aren't you? While there are birds hell-bent on killing outside, there may also be a murderer(s) inside. The characters uneasily navigate around each other as long as they can, but the audience can do the math: More than feathers are going to be ruffled. The question is when? The back-burner desperation — that which allows people to do unimaginable things — is the most-frightening thing in the show, aside from sound designer Matt Corey's spooky bird effects.
But try as they might, the rock-solid cast (especially sly Cozort and creepy Reilley) just can't get anywhere, even in 80 minutes with no intermission. McPherson's carefully orchestrated and crafted script is strangely unaffecting. It needs some slice, either through humor or insight. As it is, it's all just way too existential to leave an impression.
"The Birds" runs through Dec. 9. Performances are 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Matinees are 3 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. There is also a show 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 25. Tickets cost $40 for adults, $36 for seniors (65 and over) and $15 for students. The Mosaic Theatre is located in the American Heritage Center for the Arts at 12200 W. Broward Blvd., in Plantation. Call 954-577-8243 or go to MosaicTheatre.com.