St. Ann's Warehouse and Onassis Cultural Centre — Athens present the American premiere of Nikos Karathanos's The Birds, a modern, feast-for-the-senses adaptation of Aristophanes's offbeat and poetic comedy. This vibrant restaging 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" with which to build a utopia in the clouds. This place, called "Cloudcuckooland," is a surreal theatrical cosmos.
Aristophanes's Birds was first produced in 414 BCE, in the midst 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's Birds, much like Karathanos's 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 (as with the famous 1959 Greek Art Theatre production by Karolos Koun, which was terminated by the Greek government for its leftist politics).
In his production, for which he adapted Aristophanes's 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 modern issues.