Review: ‘The Conference of the Birds’ at Montgomery College

Lots of ‘fowl’ play was displayed at Montgomery College during their stunning intimate production of The Conference of the Birds, passionately directed by KenYatta Rogers, during the weekend of April 20-24, 2016.

The cast of 'The Conference of The Birds. Photo by Jeff Salmore.

The cast of ‘The Conference of The Birds.’ Photo by Jeff Salmore.

Written by Farīd ud-Dīn Attar Abū Hamīd bin Abū Bakr Ibrāhīm in the 12th Century, it illustrated the Islamic doctrine of Sufism –  about the search for truth. Here, a conference of the World’s birds congregate to  begin the search for  their King – the Simorgh bird.

The Hoopoe bird (Francisco Borja). Photo by Jeff Salmore.

The Hoopoe bird (Francisco Borja). Photo by Jeff Salmore.

And the leader of the pack is their Guide and therapist – the Hoopoe bird – played by the highly-energized Francisco Borja, who had to deal with a gaggle of kvetching feather-wearing egg layers.

Borja and the athletic ensemble all earned their feathers: Ivan Carlo, Emma Hardin, Sarah Hobaiter, Kelsey Jenkins, Cole Larravide, Christian Linares, Da’Von Moody, Faith Ore, Shaquan Pearson, Joshua Reaves, David Singleton, Peter Winnard, Lori Wysong, Maddie Valikhovskaya, and Yian Zhang. They were awesome!

In this circle-in-the-square-in-your-beak production, everyone was on that journey. No one could ‘fly the coup.’ And the exquisite designers and Director Rogers all worked together to create a visually stunning journey for all their audience members, as well as the conference of the birds who embarked on their mystical journey.

Astronomer Floating. Photo by Jeff Salmore.

Astronomer Floating. Photo by Jeff Salmore.

Elizabeth McFadden’s towering set design displayed some of the athleticism that this multi-talented cast exhibited and brought spectacle to the intimate performing space. Lynn Joslin’s gorgeous lighting helped to place us in all the different locales on our journey and shed light on what was happening in the story. Simply stunning.

Neil McFadden’s crisp sound design and Peter Zakutansky’s multi-colored costume design realistically displayed the sounds and sights of that mysterious journey and the uniqueness of each and every participant who was on that scary, and exhilarating pilgrimage. Sandra Atkinson’s choreography kept those birds on the move and helped to heighten the many different emotions. With so many characters/birds and plot-twists in this play-these sensational designers told the story so clearly and deserve much praise for their exceptional storytelling.

Dawn Avery and the band. Photo by Jeff Salmore.

Dawn Avery (center) and the band. Photo by Jeff Salmore.

And, finally, what really added to the joy I felt during this production was the score written and performed by Montgomery College Professor/Composer Dawn Avery (on the violincello and Naf), and her band of excellent musicians: Behram Deyjour on Persian and Turkish Ney and Daf); Otavi Takal on Keyboards; and Oveis Yshenas on the Persian Ney. What a pleasure to hear this beautiful score played live with so much love.

The Conference of the Birds was a wonderful experience in the theater – filled with soaring performances, design, direction, and a rich and moving score. It’s one of my favorite times in the theater this year. I won’t soon forget it.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

The Conference of the Birds played from April 20-24, 2016 at Montgomery College’s Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center – 51 Mannakee Street, in Rockville, MD. For future events, go to their website.

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Note: Special kudos to Stage Manager Bryan Boyd and his assistants Larry Barnett and Amanda Gamage, Fly Operators Christopher Gaut and Patrick Sullivan, and everyone behind the scenes.

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