Review: What the Crow Knows in ‘Grief Is the Thing With Feathers’

This overwhelmed man is now a single parent to two young boys (the appealingly understated David Evans and Leo Hart, who alternate with Taighen O’Callaghan and Adam Pemberton). And he is utterly lost in his own home.

He speaks about the bewildering throngs of supportive visitors who have descended upon him, as he waits “for any kind of structured feeling to emerge from the organizational fakery of my days.” He muses on how grief feels “fourth-dimensional, abstract, faintly familiar.”

And then the doorbell rings. The hood of Dad’s robe slips over most of his face. His voice becomes an amplified, guttural caw that somehow also embraces the elegant, emphatic diction of a classic ham actor.

This is Crow, a primal force of energy and a font of eloquent reflection. He hops madly, as crows are known to do, and takes over Dad’s desk (which he claims with a nameplate reading CROW). He recites eerie folk tales and oversees an art competition in which the boys must reconstruct their mother.

When the hood slips back, the voice modulates into gentler cadences, and there’s good old Dad again, looking perhaps a little less lost with each reappearance. We don’t doubt, though, that Crow is always there, too.

Mr. Walsh has set “Grief” in 1987, a year when devastating storms clobbered Britain. Some of the period details here seem unnecessarily distracting. I could have done without a video montage of 1980s mother figures from television. Even the home movies and recordings of Mom (portrayed by the wonderful English actress Hattie Morahan) can feel obtrusively literal.

But the muffled sounds of television and radio reports on the storms — and of sirens from the streets — beautifully evoke the way in which the whole world seems apocalyptic after a personal tragedy. And Mr. Murphy (currently of the BBC Two series “Peaky Blinders”) forges such a visceral bond with us that we do feel we hear and see through Dad’s ears and eyes.

Combining the roles of Crow and Dad is an inspired choice, at least with a performer of Mr. Murphy’s intensity and mutability. As embodied by this thrilling actor, Crow and Dad are not merely alter egos. Grief doesn’t allow for such easy symmetry. It creates its own melting rules and landscapes and may make us feel less — or other — than human. Like Mr. Murphy’s Dad, we are, as it were, beside ourselves.

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