Disability, Guns, and a Sting Play Out at Puzzle Piece

By Daniel Skora

Dan Johnson as DD and Karen Minard as Grand

DD, as he’s called by everyone except his grandmother, did not always have the mind of a boy. As a teenager, he was intelligent and filled with a youthful vigor. But when he was fifteen, an automobile accident changed everything. His mental capabilities regressed and his intellectual and social development slowed to a crawl. He’s now in his twenties, and though it’s easy to see he has dreams and desires like any young man, he has a long way to go before being able to coalesce them into a meaningful way of life.

‘bird’ is the name DD’s given the stray cat that hangs around the house because it can’t tweet, only makes a squeaky noise that sounds like a bird. It’s also the name of the current presentation of the Puzzle Piece Theatre, a world premiere by playwright Kristin Andrea Hanratty.

Dan Johnson as DD and Sergio Mautone as Leo

Both ‘bird’ and DD have their benefactors. “bird’ gets tuna and whatever else DD (Dan Johnson) can sneak from his grandma’s kitchen. DD has lived with ‘Grand’, as he calls her (Karen Minard), since his mother was sent off to jail. Grand is protective of DD, sometimes to the point of overlooking the fact that developmentally, he has the body of a man.

Dan Johnson as DD and Alex Morrison as Fifteen

One day DD’s savior of sorts arrives in town. Leo (Sergio Mautone) meets DD on the street and strikes up a conversation with him. Leo is a long-haired leather-jacketed biker type who’s opening up a store in the neighborhood (Renegade Distribution) that will sell clothes, shoes, jewelry and other paraphernalia and provide a space where everyone can hang out and have fun. He doesn’t tell DD the good stuff will be in the back.

Leo talks to DD like he’s a normal kid, which goes a long way towards establishing a relationship, and offers him a job distributing flyers. After putting a few bucks in his pocket and getting the once-over from the provocative girl-at-the-desk, DD’s all in and his confidence swells. Less clear in the play is the identity of the fourth character, a young man who appears sporadically, always with DD, offering counsel and giving advice. But if his actions and intimacy with DD aren’t enough to make his identity obvious, the playwright has dropped a clue in the name she’s given him. His name is ‘Fifteen’ (Alex Morrison), and he’s intelligent and filled with a youthful vigor.

Dan Johnson

“bird” is a tightly woven drama that clocks in at sixty minutes yet has more than enough time to tell its story. It’s inspired by real events (think “Fast and Furious” comes to the city) and contains a few plot twists along the way. Racism is a factor as the story takes place in an African American neighborhood and Leo, the new guy in town, is white. A bigger issue in the play is the treatment that disabled people receive by society in general and those close to them in particular.

The setting for the play can be any big city in the USA, and  when the piercing sounds of sirens fills the air, it’s hard to tell if they’re coming from a recorded sound track or the streets outside the theatre. The brick-effect background in black and white is split between grandma’s kitchen and the area in and around Leo’s storefront.

‘bird’ is a taut piece of dramatic theatre that offers thought-provoking and intelligent entertainment. Nicely realized in this Puzzle Piece production, it’s got a superb cast and features an exceptional performance by Dan Johnson. It’s directed by D.B. Schroeder, who’s also responsible for set, lighting, and sound design. Costumes are by Laura Heikkinen, with Joseph Sfair doing stage manager duties.

The show runs through May 7th. Tickets are available online at www.puzzlestage.org, by phone at 313.258.3885, or emailing info@puzzlestage.org with number of tickets and desired performance indicated. Puzzle Piece performances are held at the Slipstream Theatre, located at 460 Hilton in Ferndale.

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