Eugene Weekly : Theater : 11.20.08

Free Ranging Birds
How to consume SPA’s cuckoofest
By Chuck Adams 

Like most birds that you eat, Student Productions Association’s adaptation of Aristophanes’ Birds must be plucked, de-fatted, de-boned and picked apart to get to its delicious edible innards. And yes, there are gems to be found in this flawed political comedy. But first let’s see what parts of Birds should be shucked and discarded.

Conflict … wherefore art thou? The main action of SPA’s experimental adaptation of Birds is summed up: Two mortals help the bird population create a nation; in turn, humans sacrifice to the birds instead of the Greek gods; the gods go hungry; a man-turned-bird who channels his inner-Danny DeVito (Achilles Massahos) has an answer for everything; everyone sings and is merry. So the point is … what? That dictatorship is problem-solving? That both gods and mortals can be overruled using a whip and some snarky speeches? Even collaborative slapstick needs some conflict, some rising tension, some directorial leadership.

Ditch the giant cocks. Yes, phalluses may be appropriate to Greek theater circa 400 B.C.E., and Aristophanes uses them to great effect in his sex romp Lysistrata, but in Birds they, um, stick out. Like, a lot. While funny at first blush, the huge erections on the male birds are (impossibly) maintained throughout the play like a bad joke that won’t end. 

Address the questions “Why this play?” and “Why now?” When the humor depends on a disgust with Dick Cheney and a knowledge of Frosted Flakes commercials, something is amiss. This adaptation might’ve been relevant to an audience in 2002. In 2008, with a new president-elect, the jabs seem a bit stale and the dick jokes juvenile. 

Ignore the “plot holes.” As it stands, developed characters disappear offstage (never to return), new characters are introduced and dispensed with lightning speed, a goat is sacrificed to the gods and yet, later, the gods appear starved and ready to give up their domination for a piece of chicken breast. Logical minds beware!

Now that we’ve shucked Birds down a bit, we get to its juicy good parts. Like Massahos’ superb Pisthetairos, who seems to play both the protagonist and antagonist in this wildly muddled farce, and Chip Sherman’s Chorus Leader, a gamely blue bird who can strut and caw and play with the audience with remarkable ease. Sherman leads the chorus of pecking birds in movements that appear subtle and well-rehearsed. Elsewhere, Mark Mullaney’s Sycophant is well played, and the costumes by Sarah Gott are exquisite. 


Birds runs through Nov. 22 at LCC’s Blue Door Theatre. Tix at 463-5761.