Thursday, May 20, 2004

I am republishing this review from Seattle's The Stranger in its entirety...I know Herbert well, and I think his work is really fascinating.

The musical theatrics of Herbert Bergel are not a universal taste, but those who love his work embrace it tightly. Whether portraying the Cuban revolution or teenagers shopping for an amplifier, his indie-rock operettas consistently feature prosaic lyrics (often mundane conversations written in rhyming couplets), quirky yet ordinary characters, and willfully (almost aggressively) unpolished singing. Birds in Winter pushes this tendency to an outright celebration of the commonplace; it's a film of the Northwest Film Forum's executive director, Michael Seiwerath, and his family having breakfast and going to Gig Harbor, accompanied by a live score featuring two bands (one in monk uniforms, the other in false mustaches) and a six-person choir. There are moments of flashiness--choreographed joggers haunting Seiwerath as he walks to a barbershop, the drunken revels of the Typing Explosion (which includes Seiwerath's wife, Rachel Kessler)--but by and large the events are humble. One song describes shopping for weather stripping; another praises doughnuts and chocolate milk. This could all be too precious to bear, but Bergel doesn't try to make the ordinary anything but ordinary. You, the audience member, are given free rein to find children eating doughnuts affecting or banal. While I wasn't as moved by Birds in Winter as some other audience members were, I did find it completely delightful. In some of Bergel's previous work, the songs have sounded a bit too much the same; here, he's got a wider range of moods and textures, making for a satisfying piece. You have one weekend left to see Birds in Winter. Don't miss out.