STRATFORD FESTIVAL REVIEWS
The Beacon Herald - Thursday, June 26, 2003
"Ancient comedy proves human foibles always
good for a laugh"
By Laura Cudworth - Staff reporter
Humour that’s 2,500 years old can still fly.
The Birds, by Aristophanes, opened last night at the Tom Patterson Theatre and strong performances from Bernard Hopkins as Euelpides and Keith Dinicol as Pisthetairos guaranteed the comedy took off in the first half.
Unfortunately, some dance sequences by the chorus of birds near the end of the first half slowed the production down. Once the pace changed, some of the laughs flew the coop.
The play begins with Euelpides and Pisthetairos, who have left Athens behind to find Tereus, a former king who was turned into a bird by the gods. Pisthetairos suggests they form a new society in the domain of the birds and break the connection between humans and the gods. After some persuading, the birds agree and Cloudcuckooland is built. As the new city is established, it begins to take on the characteristics of the very society Pisthetairos was so eager to leave behind. Humans arrive, one after the other, including a prophet and decree vendor, all hoping to take advantage of the new city. Finally, a delegation of gods asks to be re-connected with the humans, and negotiations begin.
Mr. Hopkins’ performance is a riot. He delivers comedic lines with such sincerity his Euelpedes stole the show.
Mr. Dinicol certainly has several comedic moments and while he’s physically transformed into a bird, of sorts, his humanity grows increasingly apparent.
At the beginning of the play the men are sporting tidy safari vests and pants with hats to match. They aren’t adventurous types and the contrast is funny. The costumes, designed by Teresa Przybylski, are inventive and interesting and often comedic. The gods appear wearing traditional Greek masks but they’re dressed in modern clothes with platform shoes reminiscent of the 1970s. It’s wacky and fun and, like the direction in the play, there are few boundaries. The slew of humans who come to the new city hoping to profit are exaggerated and the costumes identify them immediately.
Again, the weakest link is the birds. The colourful masks are eye catching but the strips of material to symbolize feathers and the pyjama-like pants are less effective.
Director Nikos Dionysios is so comfortable with the source material and the myths that the jokes he adds work wonderfully well. For example, Prometheus, who is closely linked to humans and was once punished by Zeus — his liver was plucked out by an eagle — can’t enjoy his own jokes because it hurts to laugh.
Under Mr. Dionysios’s smart and skillful direction and choreography the play looks as though it was in rehearsals for six months, rather than the much shorter time allowed Festival productions.
The birds are beautifully synchronized, but again, the longer musical numbers put a halt to the excitement.
Despite some slow moments, it’s an entertaining production and those who haven’t brushed up on their Greek gods and history needn’t worry as this production is timeless.
The Birds continues until Sept. 27.