Review: The Parliament of the Birds

by Lynn on June 2, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Streaming on the Soulpepper Theatre Website: Until June 30, 2021.

By Guillermo Verdecchia

Freely adapted from Farid Ud-Din Attar’s The Conference of the Birds

Directed by Soheil Parsa

Sound design by Thomas Ryder Payne

Audio producer, Gregory Sinclair

Cast: Raoul Bhaneja

Augusto Bitter

Oliver Dennis

Christef Desir

Liz Peterson

Arsinée Khanjian

Jani Lauzon

John Ng

Beatriz Pizano

Bahareh Yaraghi

The Parliament of the Birds is another splendid addition to Soulpepper’s audio series, Around the World in 80 Plays.

The Parliament of the Birds is based on the 12th century Persian poem Conference of the Birds by Farid Ud-Din Attar, freely adapted by Guillermo Verdecchia, a Canadian playwright, director, educator, mentor and theatre maker (born in Argentina), and directed by Soheil Parsa, who is Canadian-Iranian, and performed by a truly international cast. Everything about this audio production bursts with life, urgency and cultural references. It is both centuries old and as contemporary as tomorrow.

A group of various birds (Crow, Sparrow, Parrot, Nightingale, Duck, Falcon, Cardinal and Pigeon and others) have come to hear Hoopoe speak. She has an urgent message about their diminishing world.

“We need to talk”, she tells the group. “The world we made is in great trouble. Oceans are sick. The air is poisoned. The clouds are dying. Everywhere I look I see troubles, sorrow, violence, terrible fights over scraps of land, over a handful of grain.”

There are objections to her expressions of truth. Disagreements break out between the birds. Parrot says, “They’re killing my kind, daily.”

Again Hoopoe puts it in perspective: “We can’t go on like this: flock against flock, each against all. We cannot talk without bursting into disagreement.”

Her solution is for the assembled to go on a journey and seek enlightenment and change the way they are. They are seeking wisdom in Simorgh, the king of kings, the leader of birds, or just human enlightenment.

The Parliament of Birds is of course an allegory of our turmoiled world: climate change, racism, war, despotism, intolerance and the search for a better existence. Each bird displays a human fault that should be addressed. Animals or birds etc. as allegories on human behaviour is nothing new: Animal Farm by George Orwell for example.

Guillermo Verdecchia’s bracing, vivid, compelling adaptation of Farid Ud-Din Attar’s original poem beautifully captures the thrust and lunge of the anger that permeates the modern world. There is reluctance of the birds to go on the journey but they accept that something must be done to care for their wounded, angry world. On the journey, animosity turns to consideration, care, selflessness. Revelation results, as does hope.

Soheil Parsa directs his excellent cast with care, sensitivity and a determined fearlessness not to back away from the ugliness of the story. In the end the result is poignant. Jani Lauzon as Hoopoe is impassioned and desperate to convey the message. Christel Desir beautifully expresses Parrot’s consuming anger at being considered “lesser” by Oliver Dennis’ haughty, impatient Crow. Augusto Bitter portrays the meekness of Sparrow while Beatriz Pizano plays a thoughtful, considerate Cardinal. Behareh Yaraghi illuminates Pigeon’s gentleness, with a touch of wisdom.

Thomas Ryder Payne has created a soundscate that suggests the wind, the harshness of the weather, the difficulty of a bird flying and the sounds of a world at war with itself. The Parliament of the Birds gives us a difference lens (from Iran) to view our world.

The Parliament of the Birds streams on the Soulpepper website until June 30, 2021.

Leave a Comment

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Cherie Miller June 7, 2021 at 9:19 am

Hi Lynn, I loved this audio play too❗️The character development is not the most important aspect, but I got confused about which bird was which. At first I thought that the duck was the insecure bird with “medical problems “, but I think that was the sparrow, who stands up to the “fascist “. Which bird “fell in love “ with the parrot? Thanks for your insightful review Cherie


2 Lynn June 7, 2021 at 12:18 pm

Thanks as always Cherie,

Of course if this was a play in which we saw the characters, there would be no confusion. For audio purposes it’s trickier. But as you said, the specifics of who did what is not the issue; it’s the difference in the birds at first then joining together for a common cause to solve the problem. I loved the piece and the fact that we are seeing/hearing a story from a different culture that bridges our similarities. Hope all is well.

Best, Lynn