A simple tale told lyrically

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Entertainment,Barbara Mackay

The Folger Theatre's colorful, imaginative production of "The Conference of the Birds" is a stage version, by Peter Brook and Jean-Claude Carriere, of 12th-century Persian writer Farid Uddi Attar's poem about self-knowledge and enlightenment.

"The Conference of the Birds" tells the story of the birds of the world who are urged by their leader, the Hoopoe bird (Patty Gallagher), to observe the discord and anarchy in the world. They must fly together, the Hoopoe insists, to find their king, whose name is Simorgh. It will be a long and dangerous journey, says the Hoopoe, but it must be done.

Many of the birds resist. They are concerned that the king may not exist and that they are being asked to give up present comfort for the unknown. The Parrot (Robert Barry Fleming) can't even leave his cage, as he does not want to give up his gold collar and the food his masters give him daily. The Sparrow (Britt Duff) fears she is too weak for the journey. The Falcon (Jay Dunn) claims he already has a master.

The Peacock (Jessica Frances Dukes) protests she is different from all other birds and shows off her "100,000 colors" in an exuberant dance. The Duck (Katie deBuys) says she is comfortable in water and cannot go.

Onstage
'The Conference of the Birds'
Where: The Folger Shakespeare Theatre, 201 E. Capitol St. SE
When: Through Nov. 25
Info: $30 to $68; 202-544-7077; folger.edu

But eventually, the bravest birds take off and begin the long trek across a desert and seven valleys. Some of them don't make it, but the few who persist and are strong enough in body and mind to eventually reach their goal are afforded a kind of group wisdom.

Director Aaron Posner has skillfully inspired his actors to create a work of great delicacy and insight. (In addition to those mentioned above, the ensemble includes: Celeste Jones, Tara Giordano, Jens Rasmussen, Tiffany Rachelle Stewart and Annapurna Sriram).

Choreographer Erika Chong Shuch has created marvelous gestures for the actors' bodies: Their shoulders back, their heads moving quickly left and right, they have a distinct birdlike look. When flying, the actors' hands are crossed at the wrist, swooping to the left, then to the right, giving the impression of birds in flight.

Meghan Raham's evocative set design consists of large, loosely woven brown tapestries that hang ceiling to stage, giving at once the sense of massive trees and of birds nests. Olivera Gajic's costumes are an eclectic blend of soft fabrics, leggings and cowls suggestive of wings.

Tom Teasley's original music ties the production together. Teasley sits on a balcony above the stage, providing music and sound effects, using a wide variety of percussion instruments. His accompaniment adds a brilliant musical dimension to the lyrical charm of the story that unfolds onstage.

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