“Hating yourself is a form of egotism.”
This is the central paradox of Dan Barden’s new play, “Pigeons,” which began its world premiere performances by the Butler University theatre department during its run last week.
Barden is an associate professor in the English department.
Barden’s play, his second written for the Butler theatre department, features an all-female cast and is directed by Diane Timmerman, a professor and the chair of the Butler University theatre department.
The play revolves around a group of women in Alcoholics Anonymous who question their relationships to one another and the program when their sponsor’s secret surfaces outside a meeting in an unnamed New York City church.
With equal parts of soapbox soliloquy, cleverly-biting humor and good-natured argument, “Pigeons” is a deep exploration of the AA program. Barden—who has personal experience with the recovery from alcoholism—presents both the good and the bad in a very poignant, if not subtle, way.
The play has an unusual pacing. The beginning is uncomfortable and jagged. Sarah, the sponsor, is confronted by Taylor, a sponsee, for waiting on the sidewalk instead of being in the meeting. This is out-of-character, Taylor explains. But it is definitely a big deal for Taylor, and the audience is left to watch the seemingly unnecessary bickering as more members join in the confrontation.
The dialogue immediately opens up when the group begins to explain to the newcomer—who really represents the audience— that this bickering is like that of a family.
From then on, the audience is temporarily invited into the world of AA, a group of people who have all experienced pain and are tied to each other through their mutual desire for happiness, support and reconciliation.
This is where the play falls short. The audience hears about all of these experiences, the pain and the relationships, but we don’t see it.
Perhaps the text doesn’t allow much room for the company to explore these more in-depth, but in this production, the text falls flat on the cement sidewalk outside the church where the characters are trapped.
The set did not help much. With the audience seated on three sides of the stage, the actors had to rely on positions that were reused over and over again so that all three audience sections could engage with the story.
It did not come across as natural and seemed to inhibit the actors’ natural tendencies.
While I doubt the work will move much beyond the walls of Butler, that is not to say that it is of poor quality. The characters are very honest and extremely well defined—a result of quality acting, directing and costume designing, as well as text. The play is also an excellent window into AA.
“Pigeons” continues Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.