Monday, December 10, 2018

Spirits in Migration

The Conference of the Birds

Danie Citlali Valdivieso (Mockingbird), Omar Osoria-Pena (Eagle), Jane Eisner (Goldfinch), Ashley Jaye (Hoopoe), Ben Elie (Duck) photo: Simone Finney

by Sholeh Wolpé
directed by Giulio Cesare Perrone
based on the Sufi poem by Farid ud-Din Attar 
co-produced by Inferno Theater and Ubuntu Theater Project

NOV 30–DEC 16
Brooklyn Preserve
1433 12th Avenue
Oakland, CA 94606

The Conference of the Birds, the 12th-century Sufi gem of Persian literature by Farid ud-Din Attar, is a magical tale about the migration of the soul toward enlightenment. This collaboration of Inferno Theater and Ubuntu Theater Project, directed by Giulio Cesare Perrone, brings us a production based on a recent modernization by Iranian poet Sholeh Wolpé, setting the ancient parable in motion and magic on a shoestring.

After climbing to the second floor of the rather dantesque venue of the Brooklyn Preserve on an Oakland side street, the audience enters a large attic-like space where the floor is covered in Persian rugs. A solitary musician (Amir Etemadzadeh) coaxes mournful and evocative strains from a stringed instrument, and we are greeted by the wise and gentle Attar (Joshua-Morris Williams) who guides us through the story as it unfolds.

Ali-Moosa Mirza (Nightingale), Saira Kaur Mangat (Owl), Omar Osoria-Pena (Eagle) and Jane Eisner (Goldfinch) photo: Simone Finney

The Hoopoe (Ashley Jaye) is an enlightened bird that beseeches the birds of the world to join her on a journey to the Simurgh, the great source of knowledge. Hoopoe warns that although it will be challenging, the rewards will be great. The other birds--Nightingale, Osprey, Goldfinch, Owl, Duck and Parrot--respond in a way that reveals their weaknesses such as vanity, fear, doubt, complacency, and more. Each revealed frailty creates an opportunity for our guide Attar to teach us a lesson with an illustrative story about a spider in a web, moth to flames, a lover and his mistress, and others, acted out.

Joshua-Morris Williams as Attar photo: Simone Finney 

The costumes are simple but creative and full of color, and Annie Hallatt’s bird masks suggest the essence and personality of each bird. The birds move and dance in unison (you must admire the synchronous joy of the actors) as they proceed on their treacherous pilgrimage to Simhurgh, and they must cross the Valleys of the Quest, Love, Understanding, Detachment, Unity, Astonishment, Deprivation and Death. It is not unlike the journey to Oz.

Omar Osoria-Pena photo: Simone Finney

Although The Conference of the Birds is well known in middle eastern cultures, it may not be readily understood by Americans. Providing some explanation of each bird, the lessons, and the steps of the journey would help audiences follow along. Nevertheless, this very simple and engaging production of an ancient Sufi parable brings a relevance that is worth experiencing.

by Sholeh Wolpé
directed by Giulio Cesare Perrone

NOV 30-DEC 16
Thursdays 12/6 & 12/13: 8pm
Fri & Sat Evenings: 8pm
Sundays,12/2 & 12/9: 7pm
Sundays, 12/16: 2pm

Brooklyn Preserve
1433 12th Avenue
Oakland, CA 94606

$15-45 online, pay-what-you-can at door

Joshua Morris-Williams: Attar
Ashley Jaye: Hoopoe
Sarah Brazier: Parrot, Hoarder Mother, Golden Pheasant
Jane Eisner: Goldfinch, Scientist Moth, Princess, Eqyptian Queen
Ben Elie: Duck, Dervish, American, Majnun
Saira Kaur Mangat: Owl, Dervish Moth, Layli. Sufi, Sheikh
Ali-Moosa Mirza: Nightingale, Adeeb, KingMahmud
Omar Osoria Pena: Osprey, Khizir, Courtier, Moses
Danie Citlali Valdivieso: Mockingbird, Beautiful Woman, Devil, Lovelorn Princess

Director: Giulio Cesare Perrone
Assistant Director: Sarah Brazier
Lighting Designer: Danielle Ferguson
Musician/Composer: Amir Etemadzadeh
Costume Designer: Giulio Cesare Perrone
Set Designer: Giulio Cesare Perrone
Movement/Choreography: Ensemble
Mask/Prop Designer: Annie Hallatt

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