If you love myth and storytelling embellished with music, dance, stylized movement, a dash of acrobatics, and costumes with imaginative flair, the Dresser recommends you take the entire family to see The Folger Theatre's production of The Conference of the Birds playing through November 25, 2012, at the Folger Shakespeare Library on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
The work by Jean-Claude Carrière and Peter Brook and based on the 12th century Persian fable of the same name by Farid Uddi Attar is much like The Ramayana and The Green Bird that were produced by the Constellation Theatre Company in the last several years. All three involve arduous quests. And all three have featured the percussion performance of Tom Teasley who is a virtuosic player of exotic instruments and also a singer who scats. In the Folger production, he is seen working away on his drums and melodika on the top balcony above the players.
What the Dresser particularly enjoyed was how comically modern the English translation is.
Hoopoe "Listen, feather brains! I'm speaking of our true king. He lives behind the mountain called Kaf. His name is Simorgh. He's the King of birds. He is close to us but we are far from him. The way to him is unknown and only a man with a lion's heart dare take it. ..."
Heron, "Are we sure the Simorgh exists?"
Hoopoe, "Yes. One his feather fell on China in the middle of the night and his reputation filled the world."
Under the leadership of the Hoopoe bird, the birds fearfully set out to find their leader. As the group travels, they move in ways reminiscent of the wide-stance, arm-gesturing African dance. Nightingale (Annapurna Sriram) plays a ukulele while singing sweet ballads that sound like Janis Ian or Nellie Mckay. The cast enacts plays within the larger play.
The Conference of the Birds creates an oasis from the hubbub of the current day, demanding nothing of the audience. Director Aaron Posner has choreographed a piece that moves along like a well-behaved camel caravan. Even when a slave looses his head or gets pierced by an arrow while standing with an apple on his head, the serenity of the scene is not disturbed. Nothing is presented that will scare the children or offend a senior member of the family.
Greg McBride in his poem "Tight Waist" creates a surreal landscape in this athletic action that alters the reality of his opponent in much the same way that the Hoopoe bird controls the belief system of the conference of birds. If the birds have their eyes open, they would see what the end result will be relative to their journey but they do not. Like the losing wrestler, the birds have to move through the whole process.
Like preening cocks crouched grim, we circle--
he white with red piping, I red and blue.
We hand jive the close space. I'm intrigued
by his strength, his two-step swagger.
His right heel barely rises, rolling weight
onto the ball of the foot where the slightest
lift begins the transfer from right to left,
the way a vaulter shifts from foot to planted pole.
He repeats this move a dozen times.
I'm alert to the possibilities,
observe his pattern, his cadence.
I paw the mat, ready my sugar-foot thigh.
Now his center describes a shallow arc
to an apex that barely arrives, from which
he's suspended, between two havens.
And I strike, lunging past his defenses.
I don't hear his suck of shock.
Or anything else. Not the squeak
of weightless Tigers toeing the Resilite.
Not the rising roar of ten thousand.
He sees me coming, as in a dream,
and wills a landing safe on the left,
but gravity will not be hurried, and
I'm there, behind, savoring his sweat,
clamping a tight waist. "Takedown!"
the ref cries.
by Greg McBride from Porthole
Copyright © 2012 Greg McBride