Aristophanes’ The Birds Presented by St. Ann’s Warehouse & Onassis Cultural Centre-Athens

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

BROOKLYN – 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, played by Karathanos and Aris Servetalis, respectively, 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 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 play will run for 12 performances at St. Ann’s Warehouse, May 2-13.

A vibrant re-imagining of the ancient comedy, the play’s dreamlike aspect conjures the spirit of the 1960’s as well as the best of the Theatre of the Absurd, physical theatre, and the Theatre of the Oppressed, combined with Aristophanes’ timeless ancient play to create something completely new and contemporary. The cast is impressive from the start to the finish, as the two Athenians begin the play with a scene that could be at home in a play by Samuel Beckett. Karathanos is masterful in his role and Servetalis is a comic genius. He could easily read the phone book and make it a laugh riot. The chemistry between the two actors makes their quest believable in this imaginative play. The musical elements are strong and the cast and the musicians work together seamlessly to create this unique theatrical experience.

The choreography and movement throughout are impressively performed by actors who must be in top physical condition to sustain the level of energy and acrobatics. The set design, costumes, and staging all coalesce to create a memorable theatrical experience not to be missed.

The Birds is co-presented by St. Ann’s Warehouse & Onassis Cultural Centre-Athens. It is the centerpiece of Birds: A Festival Inspired by Aristophanes, produced by the Onassis Cultural Center New York to complement the production. For more information about the festival, please see https://onassisusa.org/events/festival/birds.

“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. “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 Amalia Bennett (Movement), and Orfeas Apergis (surtitle translation).

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