Flocking together

Pub date July 17, 2007
SectionArts & CultureSectionTheater

They are an odd couple, the giant canary and the lounge-suited would-be lover. Yet you can’t help rooting for the unlikely protagonists of Our Breath Is as Thin as a Hummingbird’s Spine, Nanos Operetta and inkBoat’s collaborative journey into the absurd and hilarious world of love offered and rejected. In two acts and at 75 minutes, this witty charmer drags a bit midway; it probably could be condensed into one act without losing any of its considerable flair. Yet overall the show sings.

Lanky and bald Sten Rudstrom plays a hybrid of Tweety and Big Bird and the object of passionate affection from a wide-eyed dreamer, portrayed by Shinchi Iova-Koga, who will do anything to gain the bird’s attention. That includes donning a Rasputin beard, roosting in a tree, and turning himself into Dr. Strangelove. Ali Tabatabai’s smart script sharply defines its characters. Rudstrom’s placidity contrasts with Iova-Koga’s mercurial intensity; their chemistry carries the show through some of its weaker moments.

Much of Hummingbird‘s gentle humor derives from the physical discrepancies between its two heroes, with Iova-Koga’s love-struck poet trying to make himself more "manly" in the eyes of the laconic avian. Certain moments make you smile with pleasure: Iova-Koga’s quicksilver transformation of a forked stick into a tool and his lip-synching "You Are My Destiny" perfectly to Paul Anka. To watch Rudstrom’s bird finally spread his wings and Iova-Koga’s pursuer shyly rest his head against the bird’s breast is high comedy and also genuinely plaintive.

For the production’s third character, the narrator, imagine Tom Waits as a wandering troubadour in top hat and velvet overcoat, and you get a sense of Nils Frykdahl. Also a member of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Frykdahl has an astonishing vocal range — he easily slides from bass to soprano, with attacks that are as silken as they are raucous — which is put to first-rate use in the score composed collaboratively by Nanos members Max Baloian, Craig Demel, Robin Reynolds, Tabatabai, and Phil Williams. The music — which includes echoes of those most romantic dance forms, the tango and the waltz — is beautifully orchestrated. No surprise here: that’s something at which Nanos excels.


Through July 28

Thurs.–Sat., 8 p.m., $18–$25

ODC Theater

3153 17th St., SF

(415) 863-9834, www.odctheatre.org