A perplexing and pretentious ‘Lives of the Pigeons’

Vincent L. Lonergan and Don Bender in The Side Project’s “Lives of the Pigeons”

Sometimes after seeing a show, I leave the theatre feeling more than a little disoriented. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — good theatre should challenge. So, following the world premiere of Sherod Santos’ perplexing Lives of the Pigeons, I went home and did a little research on the playwright.

Well, from what Google tells me, Santos is quite the established and award-winning scribe. He excels at deceivingly straightforward, unadorned poetry that reveals human insights peppered with shades of darkness, often in the form of violence or harsh language.

And this observation is quite apparent in Lives of the Pigeons, a curious, 60-minute study into how our actions, or lack of action, have consequence — good and bad and everything in between.

At least, this is what I *think* the play was about.

You see, we have two elderly gentlemen, Gus (Vincent L. Lonergan) and Max (Don Bender), who meet on regular occasion to play chess, drink beer and eat sandwiches. We learn through their oblique banter that their previous hangout was destroyed by a fire, so now they’ve moved the chess party outdoors and into the park.

Gus represents an extreme lack of accountability. Act first, question later. Even though the signs tell him not to, Gus feeds the pigeons. What harm does it do? Gus loses a chess bet (not much of a surprise, given his passive approach to life mirrors his chess game) and is required to get the sandwiches and beer, but only comes back with sandwiches because that’s simply what the clerk gave him. When a mysteriously dapper man with a cane (Matthew Lloyd) makes a guest appearance, he instructs Gus to suck his own thumb. And he does.

Wait, what?


Max, the Type-A to a T, questions everything and gets annoyed when things don’t go to plan. When he comes back to find Gus sprawled out on the ground claiming a man with a cane got him in this predicament, Max demands answers.

As did I.

Look: I respect that Santos has written this dense puzzle of a play. Yet, if there’s a compelling message or idea in here, I just couldn’t latch on. Nor did I really care — despite some excellent acting and unfettered direction by Adam Webster, not once was I engaged in this tale, which mostly seemed like an hour of pointless arguing. I simply felt confused, annoyed and, like those poor pigeons, eager for a crumb.

“Lives of the Pigeons” plays through June 30 at The Side Project. More info here >

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