Sunday, January 25, 2015

Los Pajaros: Our Director

The Culture Clash script of its adaptation of The Birds by Aristophanes includes a prefatory quotation by the art critic Robert Hughes that begins: “Americans are suckers for utopian promises.” Hughes observes that each new generation “will have some other fantasy to chase, its approaches equally lined with entrepreneurs and flacks, who will be its main beneficiaries.”

Michael Fields is producing artistic director of the Dell’Arte Company and director of the California Summer School of the Arts as well as director of this HSU production. He referred to the Hughes quotation in explaining that it is a “very pointed adaptation. It’s about two guys who are legitimately searching for a better life, but they end up re-creating the same kind of world they set out to escape.”

 Culture Clash updated the ancient Greek play in 1998 and gave it a contemporary urban Latino perspective. Fields took this process a step further by changing the play’s title, from English (The Birds) to Spanish (Los Pajaros.)

 “Language is culture,” Fields said. “We want to be true to the perspective of the main characters. I talked with members of Culture Clash and they’re fine with the title change. They also gave us permission to change whatever we needed to change to make it contemporary.”

 Fields had the collaboration of his largely bilingual cast to decide what to change in the script, especially for a 2015 audience. “It’s like commedia that way,” he said. “You have to keep it on the edge of what’s current, which is what Aristophanes did for his time.”

 “For example, there’s a line—‘older than Dick Clark.’ Dick Clark is dead now so we needed somebody else. The cast suggested Betty White.”

 Fields also discovered references that didn’t need to be changed. “I was thinking of substituting somebody else for President Nixon, but they said he’s a character on Cartoon Network, so everybody still knows about him.”

But the basic story remains, from ancient Greece to now. “It’s the vacuous quest for utopia,” Fields said. “The idea that if only we had this or that, then everything would be perfect.”

 In this version there’s an unhappy ending. “It’s pretty brutal,” Fields said.

 But that isn’t the only element that may shock people. “Structurally this is a farce, but it has a lot of flat-out satire, which Culture Clash designed to be very topical and intentionally provocative,” Fields said. “Some people are probably going to be offended, but the satire and the stereotypes are spread out evenly. Everybody is a target.”

 Along the way there are jokes, physical humor, outrageous costumes, projections and scenic elements that remain secret, as well as dancing and music. Lots of music. 

“The music is really great,” Fields said, “and in many different styles—including salsa, blues, gospel, rock & roll. Thanks to an HSU diversity grant we’ve got a live band of professional musicians, led by Tim Randles. The cast does a lot of singing that keeps the story moving.”

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