The Greeks are well-known for their flair for drama — yet when classical plays take on modern form, elegance of antiquity is substituted with modern vulgarity, resulting in performances that shockingly exceed everyday limits of tragedy and horror.
As an adaptation of the tragic and gruesome story of Philomela, Procne and Tereus of Ovid’s Metamorphosis, the Yale Cabaret’s “The Three Birds,” directed by Nelson Eusebio III DRA ’07, fuses antiquity with modernity, bringing new dimension to the classic Greek tale. The play, written by Joanna Laurens, revolves around an elaborate love triangle, plagued by Tereus’s love for his wife’s sister, Philomena (played by Brooke Parks DRA ’08). “The Three Birds” deviates from the ideas of raw lust and power of the original myth, focusing instead on issues of unrequited love and revealing the human side of the story’s “villain.” Yet the play’s exceptional quality is not derived from its contemporary twist — the portrayal of the great depths of human nature, as revealed by the many layers of each character, shines out as the play’s crowning achievement.
The play itself is as multidimensional as its characters. The performance relies on a variety of symbols to add to the play’s themes, including varying forms of dialogue and speech, evoking crude modern slang, classical elegance and powerful figurative language. The sisters also form their own dialogue patterns, speaking a broken, fragmented language until they reach sexual maturity. This confusing script, which involves an extensive mixture of imagery, though wholly colorful, often overshadows the performance itself.
Despite the burdens of a complex script, the actors’ portrayal of human vulnerability to lust, passion, grief and greed is profoundly moving. The characters visibly mature and develop, exposing raging emotions that will certainly provoke a cathartic response. Parks’ portrayal of Philomela is particularly striking, as she vividly portrays the poignant emotion of pure hatred. James Chen DRA ’08 displays Tereus’ blinding love with a similar power, allowing the audience to sympathize with his character’s brutality.
With such a vast variety of themes, languages, and layers of character, “The Three Birds” is undoubtedly entertaining and engaging. The actors, typical of a Yale Cabaret production, are not restricted by the confines of a stage; instead, the actors frequently utilize the area in between tables, often incorporating the audience’s space into their performances.
The set of “The Three Birds” complements the multiple facets of the play, boasting both classical and modern style. The stage is limited to a U-shaped platform and two short columns, evoking a sense of Grecian architecture, but framed in a contemporary, minimalist fashion. Instead of an elaborate set, the Cabaret has opted to add to the plot through significant props and various light patterns, using large panels of fabric to play with shadow and light.
Although the characters are quite able to speak for themselves (and often do so in shocking and provoking ways), the eclectic music of “The Three Birds,” collected and composed by Sara Picket DRA ’08, highly adds to the play’s dramatic flair. Dark, sultry music plays up motifs of lust and love while kabuki-inspired songs, composed by Picket, mirror the intricate and chaotic struggles of the three main characters.
“The Three Birds,” with its unique fusion of the old and new, surprising variety of performance techniques and exceptional actors, is an example of Yale Cabaret at its best — a fine way to spend a weekend night.