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‘Birds’ of paradise: Ancient Greek comedy gets a new, idyllic ending

Flying high: The Greek production of “The Birds” will have its American debut at St. Ann’s Warehouse on May 2.
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This play showed up on a wing and a prayer!

A freshly-hatched, modernized version of the ancient Greek comedy “The Birds” will migrate to Dumbo next week. The satire about a democracy starring gods, men, and birds, written by Aristophanes in 414 BC, will land at St. Ann’s Warehouse on May 2 for a two-week run. But this production, adapted by playwright Nikos Karathanos in 2016, gives the play a shiny new setting and an optimistic ending that was only hinted at in the original, said the curator of a festival celebrating the show.

“This adaptation is very different from the original — the original is black in its outcome and its conclusion is that men are corrupt and can’t build a society,” said Violaine Huisman. “The play at St. Ann’s imagines a happy ending, where birds, gods, and men are happy and can coexist in a utopian world, and it’s aesthetically perfect.”

The play, which is at the center of a city-wide series of events titled “Birds: A Festival Inspired by Aristophan­es,” follows two men who leave the corrupt democracy of Athens and seek to create a utopian society among the clouds.

The colorful, music-filled production was hatched in Greece, and features a cast of 19 in beachwear — and sometimes much less (it is not a family-friendly production). The actors perform in Greek, with English supertitles for the American audience. But nothing will get lost in translation, said Huisman — the play’s humor is universal.

“It’s meant be a comedy and it’s meant to be funny,” she said. “It’s very playful and even in the translation, you’ll be able to tell the playfulness in and around the language.”

And modern American audiences may find some parallels between the play and headlines about a former reality-television star-turned President, said the curator.

“This story is very relevant to contemporary society because it questions the things we face daily, like corruption in democracy and a desire for peace and a utopia, even if it’s just in our minds,” said Huisman. “The original was made at a time in ancient Greece when politics and entertainment were merged together, something important about the interpretation of the play.”

“The Birds” at St. Ann’s Warehouse [45 Water St. between New Dock and Old Dock streets in Dumbo, (718) 254–8779, www.stannswarehouse.org]. May 2–13; Tue–Sat at 7:30 pm; Sun at 5 pm. $36–$56.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimon@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @AS1mon.
Updated 5:45 pm, July 9, 2018
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