St. Ann’s Warehouse & Onassis Cultural Centre-Athens Present Aristophanes’ The Birds U.S. Premiere

The Birds by Aristophanes, directed by Nikos Karathanos. Photo by Kiki Papadopoulou

NEW YORK –St. Ann’s Warehouse and Onassis Cultural Centre-Athens present the American Premiere of Nikos Karathanos’ The Birds, a modern, feast-for-the-senses adaptation of Aristophanes’ offbeat and poetic comedy. This vibrant re-staging owes as much to Eden as it does to the Amazon, and captures the collective spirit of revolution with a company of 19 actors.

Two Athenians, Peisthetaerus and Euelpides, are fed up with their city and the gods who rule over it; they take to the woods, seeking out “birds” to build a utopia in the clouds. This place, called “Cloudcuckooland,” is a surreal theatrical cosmos that in Nikos Karanthanos’ insightful vision “embraces our inherent need to dream and offers hope for decadence,” Art Forum reported. Following its sold-out World Premiere at the open air Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus and a subsequent popular engagement at the Onassis Cultural Center in Athens, Greece, the playwill run for 12 performances at St. Ann’s Warehouse, May 2-13.

“The Birds has a wild and subversive energy, that reminded me of the original production of Hair, with its hippie manifesto and mélange of colorful ragtag players and musicians as the birds and the gods, including a paralympian as Zeus. Aggelos Triantafillou’s music and the awesome sound he and the cast create for the birds stuck in my memory long after I saw this production in Athens,” said St. Ann’s Warehouse Artistic Director Susan Feldman.

Afroditi Panagiotakou, the Onassis Foundation’s Director of Culture, said, “Empowered by Nikos Karathanos’ gaze, Aristophanes’ birdsspeak of a utopian society, a society that cannot be. They set off our thoughts and emotions about democracy, freedom and equality—a vision that’s always worth fighting for.”

Aristophanes’ The Birds was first produced in 414 BCE, during the height of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, the nearly-three-decade bloodbath that left Athens depleted. Athens had been a nexus of lofty ideals: the world’s first known democratic society, teeming with intellectual and artistic excellence. But Aristophanes’ The Birds, much like Karathanos’ adaptation, was borne of turmoil and transition—a utopian escapist fantasy replete with raucous humor, dance, and music.Through the millennia, directorial interpretations have varied starkly: some lean into the play’s escapism as apolitical, while others see it as inherently political, and their takes have stirred major controversies. The famous 1959 Greek Art Theatre production by Karolos Kounwas shut down by the Greek government for its leftist politics.

The Birds by Aristophanes, directed by Nikos Karathanos. Photo by Kiki Papadopoulou

In his production, for which he adapted Aristophanes’ text with Giannis Asteris, Karathanos draws on everything from ancient practices to pop culture, music hall to drag artistry, rites of passage to beach parties. He creates what he calls a “weird and outrageous experience” honoring the original while molding it to reflect on contemporary issues—at a time when the Greek debt crisis continues to put major strains on the people, and globalization and economic strife spark reactionary, isolationist politics across the world. Karathanos references human migrations across the globe—the movements of people with the gumption it takes to change their lives, venture forth, and start their worlds anew—as the core of his vision.

“Aristophanes’ heroes traveled skywards” to reimagine their world,” said Karathanos. “All these years that have gone by, people have never ceased leaving, running, going places. We come to you from the same city as the heroes of Aristophanes; we, like them, are also tired and exasperated with life there. We, like them, are migrants, always in search of our very own, and perhaps collective, ‘cloudcuckooland.’ We want to speak to you of the people who stand on one leg all the time, who feel foreign and alien in the very midst of their own city among people who fear their difference. We want to speak for those who’ve been forced, through pain and ill-treatment, to live on borders and who grow wings, every day that passes, so that they can cross the borders and jump the wall, however ‘beautiful’ that wall may be.”

The Birds is performed in Greek with English subtitles.

The cast features Amalia Bennett, Kostas Berikopoulos, Konstantinos Bibis, Maria Diakopanagiotou, Vasiliki Driva, Haris Frangoulis, Galini Hatzipaschali, Nikos Karathanos, Emily Koliandri, Ektor Liatsos, Christos Loulis, Grigoria Metheniti, Foivos Rimenas, Michalis Sarantis, Aris Servetalis, Giannis Sevdikalis, Elena Topalidou, Marisha Triantafyllidou, and Aggelos Triantafillou. The creative team includes Nikos Karathanos (Direction and Adaptation),  Giannis Asteris (Translation and Adaptation), Elli Papageorgakopoulou (Sets and Costumes), Aggelos Triantafillou (Music), Simos Sarketzis (Lighting Design), and AmaliaBennett (Movement), and Orfeas Apergis (surtitle translation).

The musicians include: Sofia Efkleidou, Michalis Katachanas,Dimitris Klonis, Vasilis Panagiotopoulos, and Dimitris Tigkas.