Some eggs take a while to hatch. Director Aaron Posner loved Peter Brook’s The Conference of the Birds upon first read in high school, but the play spent the next three decades in Posner’s proverbial nest. This season, he finally cracks it open at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., working with a dozen diverse actors and local musician Tom Teasley to discover the simple power of the 12th-century Sufi poem.
“Classic journey stories are so captivating,” says Posner. “This is a moral fable with a sense of adventure. The poem teaches core concepts of Sufism through a simple story about a flock of birds looking for their king. But everyone can appreciate the big questions it raises about how we live and grow together.”
Peter Brook collaborated with Jean-Claude Carrière on the stage version of The Conference of the Birds in the ’70s, basing the text on a signature work by Sufi poet Farid Uddi Attar. They spent the next few years touring the show through northwest Africa on an unprecedented 8,500-mile artistic expedition. Since then it’s been seen mainly in university settings. Posner enjoys melding the classic western European (the Folger’s Elizabethan Theatre is a reproduction of Shakespeare’s Globe) with Persian parable. “But it still must feel authentic to this group of performers here and now,” he says. “This show is for everybody. It’s about honoring ensemble and improvisation.”
Through Nov. 25 audiences can take the journey too. “The birds have really found themselves by the end,” Posner laughs. “I expect we’ll find ourselves as well.”