Leeav Sofer (Bird), left, and Andrew Huber (Man)EXPAND
Leeav Sofer (Bird), left, and Andrew Huber (Man)
Photo by Cooper Bates

This Fable Aimed at Children and Adults Needs Help From SpongeBob

Since debuting its highly acclaimed 2013 production of Walking the Tightrope, 24th Street Theatre has sought to transform what is euphemistically called Theater for Young Audiences (TYA) with a sophistication and edge capable of engaging adults as well.

This time out, director Debbie Devine applies her signature economy and fertile invention to Man Covets Bird, Australian children’s playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer’s 2010 parable about the mystery of adulthood. With its folkloric pitch, naïve point of view and storyteller presentation — all familiar TYA tropes — the narrative follows the travails of an adolescent (an amiable Andrew Huber) who wakes up one day to find himself a grown man but a stranger to his parents, and who makes his way in the world in the company of an orphaned bird (played by musical director/composer Leeav Sofer) as half-formed as himself.

But where Tightrope’s meditation on grieving and loss was both affecting and universal in its simplicity and directness, Man Covets Bird tends to get lost in poetic abstruseness and intellectual ambition. To a child, Kruckemeyer’s outdated depiction of meaningless factory work à la Modern Times might well seem a dehumanizing horror; to an adult, its promise of a secure middle-class income plays more like Shangri-La.

Sofer’s original neo-folk and jazz-infused songs are diverting, and Matthew G. Hill’s Harold and the Purple Crayon-inspired projections are slyly amusing. In terms of adult-youth crossover appeal, however, Man Covets Bird falls far short of the wit, wisdom and real-world relevance found in the average episode of SpongeBob SquarePants.

24th Street Theatre, 1117 W. 24th St., University Park; through Nov. 22. (213) 745-6516, 24thstreet.org.

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