A spiritual quest takes flight

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Entertainment,Theater,Barbara Mackay

The upcoming production of "The Conference of the Birds" at the Folger Theatre is noteworthy, first because the play is rarely produced. "I can't find evidence of it being done in a traditional, professional production since Peter Brook did it in New York in 1980," said Aaron Posner, the director.

Second, "Conference" is an extraordinary play, a dramatization by Brook and Jean-Claude Carri?re of a 12-century Sufi text about the search for meaning in the universe, using a mixture of music, dance, poetry, philosophy and humor in the service of a serious subject.

" 'Conference of the Birds' falls into what people often call wisdom literature, which is focused on larger questions, on imparting knowledge," said Posner. "It's largely about asking you to look at your life in new ways.

"The play really asks big, hard, direct questions. It brings up emotions, thoughts and memories from the people involved, both actors and observers," he said.

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

The original Persian poem, by Farid Uddi Attar, is the story of the world's birds, who are urged by a hoopoe bird to set out on a long and dangerous journey, a quest for self-discovery. "The birds speak, they sing, they talk," said Posner. "They're quite erudite.

"These are fabulous little stories about a couple of thieves, about a bird who won't leave his cage. They're simple tales about attachment, hope, fear, obsession, love, delusion. Like most parables, the stories are very open to what we all bring to them. The most interesting part of the project is the interplay between the story and the participants, including the audience."

"Conference" uses 11 actors plus internationally renowned composer/musician Tom Teasley. "I've been very moved by the way the cast is embracing the play," said Posner. "They're being courageous and generous in their work. Movement is very important to the story, and we have a spectacular choreographer, Erika Chong Shuch. All the designers are tying to create a simple, gentle platform for these stories.

"You have to acknowledge that this story is coming from Persia, from what is now Iraq and Iran. It's wonderful to be doing something that is gorgeous, deeply spiritual and hopeful, something healing and peaceful coming from a world in which so much complexity is focused these days.

"This is a spectacular piece of literature from a thousand years ago coming from a truly advanced, spiritual and beautiful civilization. There's something that feels really nice about being in relation to that culture right now."

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