Bird on a Tree Branch

It’s a spring day in April 1965. Vivian and Doug are a white, middle class couple taking refuge in their basement as they find themselves in the path of the worst tornado on record in the Midwest. They share their shelter with Hannah, a black woman they picked up at the bus stop, on their way home from church. Racial tension, misunderstanding, family secrets and regret underpin the story of this play. Civil...
It’s a spring day in April 1965. Vivian and Doug are a white, middle class couple taking refuge in their basement as they find themselves in the path of the worst tornado on record in the Midwest. They share their shelter with Hannah, a black woman they picked up at the bus stop, on their way home from church. Racial tension, misunderstanding, family secrets and regret underpin the story of this play. Civil rights meet civil war as the trio struggle to survive this shelter from the storm.

NOTE: The 2020 Premiere at Phoenix Theatre in San Francisco was cancelled due to the coronavirus. Subsequently, a version performed entirely on Zoom was produced by Phoenix Arts Association in 2021.

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Bird on a Tree Branch

Recommended by

  • Donald E. Baker:
    13 Dec. 2021
    Huddled in a basement with the infamous Palm Sunday tornados bearing down on them, a married couple and their unwilling guest confront long-held secrets, self-serving lies, long-standing grievances, and ingrained prejudices. A terrific character study that deserves wide-spread production.
  • Philip Middleton Williams:
    20 Nov. 2021
    Impending danger forces us to face reality: it forces us to be honest with ourselves and those we care about. In this taut drama where three people are taking refuge from a horrific storm, the peril of physical harm brings suppressed echoes of the past and lays them starkly on the table for all to see and deal with honestly. Jan Probst's characters are intricately drawn and we see what really lies beneath, like when a storm peels off the roof of a house to show us the inside. And yet they hang on and survive.

Character Information

  • Vivian Smiley
    42,
    White
    ,
    Female
    Housewife, ex-Mennonite. White, forty-two years old, and one scene at the age of eighteen. Can be doubled, or cast as two separate roles.
  • Hannah Jackson
    48,
    African American / Black
    ,
    Female
    Junior college instructor. Black, forty-eight years old.
  • Doug Smiley
    42,
    White
    ,
    Male
    Vivian's husband. Sells insurance, likes to talk.
  • Al Smiley, Jr.
    19,
    White
    ,
    Male
    Doug's deceased older brother, at the age of nineteen. Always wears his high school letter jacket. Can be played by the actor playing Doug, or as a separate role.
  • Announcer/Newsman
    Male
    Voice-over of radio announcer or newsman, to sound like a radio announcer from the era.

Development History

  • Reading
    ,
    Valdez Theatre Conference
    ,
    2019

Production History

  • Professional
    ,
    Phoenix Arts Association
    ,
    2021

Awards

Certificate of Commendation
,
San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
,
2021
The Kilroys List
,
The Kilroys
,
2020