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.
OUR BREATH IS AS THIN AS A HUMMINGBIRD'S SPINE
Through July 28
Thurs.Sat., 8 p.m., $18$25
3153 17th St., SF
(415) 863-9834, www.odctheatre.org
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