Theater archives

A Map of Virtue: Erin Courtney’s New Play Puts Too Many Birds on It


Erin Courtney is one of the few American playwrights willing to acknowledge and explore how supernatural currents can churn around our psychological lives. In Demon Baby (2004), her best-known drama, a sprightly gnome emerges from an unhappy woman’s psyche and becomes at least as real as anything else in her world. A Map of Virtue, Courtney’s new play produced by the writers’ collective 13P, summons birds—flocks of them—as emblems of fate and self-evolution. We hear eerie, anarchic chirping in the blackouts, a woman representing a tiny feathered statuette (Birgit Huppuch) re-narrates scenes from the periphery, and a deranged kidnapper (Jesse Lenat) wears a beaked mask when preparing to torture his victims.

Ken Rus Schmoll directs this sparse staging with sensitivity to the way Courtney intends these images to circulate—as markers of the symmetrical childhood and adult traumas of Sarah (Maria Striar) and Mark (Jon Norman Schneider). The most straightforward scenes—depicting their captive weekend in the Catskills—are the most successful, graphically exposing their tormentors’ violent pathologies. But Courtney overstretches the ornithology, and too many metaphors are recited for the audience rather than woven into the production’s texture for us to discover. And several extraneous devices—especially the prosaic talking statue and an abductor’s ukulele songs—neither integrate rhythmically nor collide theatrically. A Map of Virtue evokes some dark and fantastical headspace. But encumbered with these heavy elements, it somehow never soars into flight.