A New ‘Birds in Church’ From Rhubarb Theater Company

Rhubarb Theater Company returns to the work of Joe Pintauro Friday through Nov. 17 as it presents Birds in Church. The show is a series of 14 provocative vignettes written by the New Yorker and former Catholic priest that are taken from the playwright’s larger 27-piece Metropolitan Operas.

Nashville theatergoers may remember when Rhubarb first exploded onto the scene nearly 10 seasons ago with a Birds in Church production of 16 stories from the same collection overseen by Rhubarb founder Julie Alexander and John Devine, her partner for the project. That show and the experience of working with Alexander on such meaningful and challenging pieces of art, life, spirituality and sexuality have had a lasting impact on everyone involved.

“The theater community still talks about that show,” says Trish Crist, who was in the cast of that production. “That was the point where many of us realized not all theater is cute—and several of us have been drawn to grittier, uglier theater ever since. I know I have.”

Now owner and artistic director of Rhubarb (a gift from Alexander when she left Nashville in 2009), Crist will be directing 17 of Nashville’s top actors in this mounting and is quick to explain this will not be a duplicate of Alexander’s work. “First of all, that wouldn’t be fair to Julie if I tried to just ‘redo’ everything she did,” she says. “Second of all, I probably wouldn’t succeed—she’s an exceptional artist and director and person, and I’ve no desire for my work to be compared to hers. And third of all, where’s the fun in following a recipe for a show?”

The 2012 production is intended as a reminder of Rhubarb’s artistic roots, a statement that they are growing strong nearly 10 years later and as a heartfelt thank you from Crist to Alexander for the earlier turning-point experience. This version, which takes its title from one of the vignettes involving two older priests, includes nine of the vignettes presented in Rhubarb’s first show and five from the part of the collection that were not used before.

“So, are there birds?” is a question that makes Crist laugh. “Yes, birds of one sort or another are involved in pretty much ever vignette. They are not always literal birds, however,” she says. “Many of the stories deal with the harmony (or disharmony) of spirituality and sexuality — feelings of obligation, lack of freedom, trapped as if like a bird in a cage. Remember, Pintauro is a former Catholic priest.”

The cast includes Clay Hillwig, who was in the original show (though in different roles), Kate Adams, Cee Anthony, Phil Brady, Caroline Davis, Lisa Dunaway, Bob Fish, Deanna Glasser, Paige Glasser, Kelly Lapczynski, Jim Manning, Kellye Mitchell, Trey Palmer, Joy Tilley Perryman, Bralyn Stokes, Michael Welch and Lane Wright. Birds in Church deals with sexual and religious themes and is for mature audiences. It runs at the Darkhorse Theater (4610 Charlotte Ave.) with Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. All tickets are $12. Reservations and information are available at (615) 397-7820 or by emailing rhubarbnashville@gmail.com.

*Photos by Trish Crist and Bralyn Stokes courtesy Rhubarb Theater Company.

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