The search for the divine is showcased in “The Conference of the Birds,” opening Sept. 27 at Willamette University.
“The Conference of the Birds” is based on by Farid Uddi’s thousand-year-old poem, which was turned into a play by Jean-Claude Carriere and Peter Brook in 1979.
“The source material — both the original poem and the dramatic interpretation — are rich with colorful characters and vibrant storytelling,” says Andrew Toney, Willamette’s theatre manager. “It’s perfectly suited for the stage, and it’s the kind of play that actors, directors and designers thrive on bringing to life.”
In the play, the birds of the world gather to discuss the warfare and quarreling that’s erupted in their midst. They’re in search of their mythic king, so they turn to the wisest of them all, the hoopoe, for advice.
The hoopoe urges the birds to seek out the legendary Simorgh to lead them. From there, the birds set out on a quest for enlightenment. During their journey, they learn that God is not external or separate from the universe, but rather is all of the universe together, Toney says.
“This is considered by many to be the central spiritual part of Islam,” he says. “The story itself is captivating and filled with ‘aha’ moments — the kinds of insights and thought-provoking material that the arts generally, and theatre in particular, are uniquely qualified to investigate.”
“The Conference of the Birds” is directed by Willamette alumna Shana Cooper ’99, a theatre major who later earned her MFA in directing from Yale School of Drama. Her most recent work includes directing “The Unfortunates,” playing with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland through Nov. 2.
Joining Cooper are guest set designer Alan Schwanke and guest set designer Sharath Patel, plus Willamette’s own production team.
“The Conference of the Birds” is showing Sept. 27 through Oct. 12, with a preview performance Sept. 26. Thursday through Saturday performances begin at 7:30 p.m., and 2 p.m. matinees are scheduled for Sept. 29 and Oct. 6 and 12.
General-admission tickets for the preview performance costs $8, the same as all tickets for students and seniors 65 and older. Matinees are $10 and evening performances are $12.
Tickets may be purchased at the door, by calling the WU Theatre Box Office at 503-370-6221 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. They are also available at www.boxofficetickets.com and at Travel Salem, 181 High St., 503-581-4325.