Grief Is the Thing at St Ann’s Warehouse

Murphy Cills it in Perfect Adaptation of Max Porter Mini-book

Grief is the Thing with Feathers at St. Ann’s Warehouse. (Colm Hogan)

It’s so easy to write a review when there’s obvious flaws and imperfections that you long to correct. The attention-grabbing new production of King Lear? Difficult to hear the dialogue and its famous storm scene raged as hard as a mewling kitten. All My Sons? Plodding though well-intentioned, a dull old uncle of a revival. Network? Bryan Cranston acts circles around his forgettable co-stars.

So what happens when a production is perfect? A plea to St. Ann’s Warehouse to keep the visiting production of Grief is the Thing with Feathers in America as long as possible. A reverential thank you for the chance to have experienced such a masterpiece. Pray that someone films it so you can watch it over and over again.

Adapted and Directed by: Enda Walsh
Written by: Max Porter
Starring: Cillian Murphy
Where and When: St. Ann’s Warehouse APRIL 20-MAY 12, 2019

Grief is the Thing with Feathers is a slim debut novel by Max Porter, a heartbreaking tale of a London family of four that becomes a trio when the mother dies suddenly. The novel, full of fits and starts, without a direct narrative, was gorgeously adapted and directed by Enda Walsh. There is Dad and two boys, and there are the walls of their London flat, which become the real stage for their visitor, the crow. The crow means grief. When grief comes to the door, you answer. The crow will embrace you as long as you say a proper hello.

The star of this magical experience is Cillian Murphy (pronounced Killian, not Sillian, which my dear Irish friend told me – laughing – as there is no K in the Irish language. C is K.) Murphy was Scarecrow in Batman Begins, and his terrifying scarecrow voice is nearly the same as the crow’s. But the crow is not evil. The crow knocks on your door, demands that you say hello, and will not leave you until you no longer need it. The crow is visible to the boys as well. One lays on his pillow and exclaims because he finds a feather. Well, pillows are made of feathers, Dad tells him. But no, this feather is long and black, the son replies. Grief is inescapable. It must be greeted.

The author of the novel from which the play is adapted, Max Porter. (Rebecca Kurson for Book and Film Globe)

The play alternates between the father’s attempts to write about Ted Hughes – not about his relationship with Sylvia Plath – but choosing the most tragic modern figure in British literature is the perfect frame for the love story between Dad and the wife he misses so intensely. The walls of the flat fill with his labored attempts at writing, the boys’ drawings covered by heavy black crow marks, and slideshows of people with crow faces. At one point, the walls fill with thousands of letters tumbling down in a cacophony of visual chaos and pain. The scene is indelible, the voice of the crow unforgettable.

The crow is with them for years, until the end, when the three find a way to say goodbye to the wife. Color emerges for the first time on the wall, without being erased. There are no more feathers. Since the family greeted the crow, they are able to let go of it.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers is a stunning and revelatory experience, full of sounds, words, voices, feathers, and piercing grief. There is also love and redemption, and the comfort of a crow’s wings during epic pain. Line up on the cancellation line, do whatever you have to do to see this show before it leaves us.

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Rebecca Kurson

Rebecca Kurson writes about literature, pop culture, television, science fiction and music. Her work has appeared in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Observer, The Federalist and Rodale's Organic Life.

One thought on “Grief Is the Thing at St Ann’s Warehouse

  • June 10, 2019 at 12:12 am

    What I saw was a sheltered, snobbish young author (who seems, suspiciously, to be his own editor) sloppily projecting his feelings as a boy over losing his dad onto a forty-something guy who’d lost his wife, leaving said guy to come off as a selfish, shrieking psycho as a result. I spent about ninety percent of the play waiting for the scene where a neighbor called either the police or Child Protective Services. “Dad” was a loon, the staging swung between “frantic” and “embalmed,” and this sure as hell was nowhere near as good as “Misterman.” The further Enda Walsh strays from his “shall we borrow just a wee bit of detailed, drab Irish melancholy from William Trevor?” roots, the harder his word torrents are to take– and he and precious Max are the worst kind of mirrors for one another.


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