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Custom Made’s ‘Thrush & Woodpecker’ wild and entertaining

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Adam Magill and Stacy Ross are excellent in Custom Made Theatre Co.’s premiere of “The Thrush & the Woodpecker.” (Courtesy Jay Yamada)

On the cover of the program, beneath the title “The Thrush & the Woodpecker,” are the words “a revenge play.”

But you won’t know it for the first half hour or so of this taut, intermission-less, 75-minute drama by Steve Yockey, a Custom Made Theatre Company “rolling” world premiere. (The troupe is the third theater group in the U.S. to produce it as part of the National New Play Network.)

You might in fact think it’s a mother-son relationship play, which it is, in part.

But it’s also a bit of a mystery for a while, and there’s even a quaint folk-tale element. Then it explodes into the horror genre.

It’s engaging every step of the way, due to Yockey’s gift for banter as well as his sharp, focused dialogue, and to an excellent cast under Tracy Ward’s sure-handed, carefully paced direction.

Single mother Brenda (Stacy Ross, giving her usual edgy, emotionally full and elegantly crafted performance) is furious: Her son, Noah (a charmingly open-faced and utterly convincing Adam Magill), has unexpectedly returned from college, expelled for smashing all the street lights on campus.

It was an act of deep belief, he explains. He’s studying to be an astronomer, and human-made “light pollution” is making it harder and harder for scientists to examine the heavens. It was Mom who taught him to do what he thinks is right, he reminds her.

Yet, significantly, the acerbic and sarcastic Brenda accuses him of blithely committing an illegal act without considering the consequences.

That accusation represents a bit of foreshadowing, and other clues exist, too, from the very beginning.

For example, there are the ominous bird shrieks from outside (great sound effects by Liz Ryder). It seems that woodpeckers — who, it is mentioned, eat other birds’ eggs — are persistently trying to drum their way through the front door.

And it’s pointedly noted that Brenda and Noah are “nomadic.”

Partway through, the conflict between Brenda and Noah comes to a dead halt (never to be revived), with the arrival of a mysterious early-morning guest, Ms. Danner (a complex, riveting performance by Fontana Butterfield).

What transpires after that cannot be revealed here.

For sure, the show’s structure is odd — a couple of animations in the middle (designed by David Goodwin) are probably unnecessary but nevertheless entertaining — and the plot is full of contrivances and behavior that defies logic.

But it’s altogether so much fun to watch, who cares?

REVIEW
The Thrush & the Woodpecker
Presented by Custom Made Theatre Co.
Where: 533 Sutter St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. most Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. most Saturdays; extended through Aug. 27
Contact: (415) 798-2682, www.custommade.org

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