What do you do when your country, an acknowledged military and economic powerhouse, has fought a prolonged war and is in economic crisis? In Athens, in the year 414 BC, after 17 years of the Peloponnesian War with Sparta, theatergoers needed a little relief — some good laughs, some feathers, some songs and some silliness. Aristophanes wrote and staged “The Birds,” for the Athenians.
Howard Shangraw, Idyllwild Arts Theatre Department’s chair, director and acting instructor, saw a parallel with the struggles many of us face today. So he, like Aristophanes, penned and staged an elixir of comic relief, a tonic for the times. “For the Birds,” his take on Aristophanes’ feathered fluff offers an escape from the rough realities of today.
“Rather than open our with something heavy, I thought, how about an explosion of feather costumes, Crayola colors and a living, breathing Looney-Toon cartoon?’” explained Shangraw. “For the Birds” unashamedly stoops low to conquer its audiences, employing base humor, slapstick, shtick and karaoke, yes karaoke.
The basic plot of “The Birds” has two Athenians fleeing the heaviness of prolonged war to an ideal city in the clouds populated by birds. Shangraw has Angelinos fleeing L.A.’s congestion.
In “For the Birds” program notes, Shangraw writes, “Two guys fed up with a world of financial insecurity, reality TV and self-help gurus, flee the over-crowded, smog-filled city of Los Angeles for a simpler life in the Kingdom of the Birds. They scheme up an ingenious plan that could turn the birds’ land into a carefree paradise. Their only obstacle: the wrath of the gods!”
Without giving away character identities, Shangraw advises his audiences that they will see some well-known celebrity characters in “For the Birds.”
The production presents Shangraw’s student acting company assisted by faculty choreographers Lauren Smith and Jonathan Sharp, and student choreographer Gemini Anderson.
“I wanted to feature the great voices and skills of many of my students,” he said, “and to expand their comedic abilities. After all, to repeat an oft-used quote, ‘Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.’”
“For the Birds” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4 and Saturday, Nov. 5 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6. All performances are free and will be presented at the IAF theatre.