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At Classic Theatre Company, Democracy Is for The Birds

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Under director Philip Hays, Classical Theatre Company’s production of Aristophanes’s classic comedy The Birds is getting a 21st-century facelift. 

You may ask: Why this play? Why now? As the saying quite nearly goes, ancient theater is all Greek to me. On this front, Hays is quick to retort: “It’s pretty topical considering the light of the current political situation.”

Hays, a regular at Classical Theatre Company, pulled double duty on The Birds as both the show’s director and its script adapter. “It’s a satire on the early days of democracy. It’s about an opportunist who takes advantage of gullibility. [The opportunist] takes the passion to be powerful and turns [that passion] into something to aggrandize, to make himself bigger, ” Hays says. Sound familiar? In light of all this election year’s madness, maybe we haven’t come so far from 414 BC.

Luis Galindo, whose previous stage credits include shows at Stages Repertory Theatre, Houston Shakespeare Company, Stark Naked Theatre and The Alley, plays Pisthetaerus, a witty Athenian who loves a grand prank. Hays advocated for Galindo to land the juicy role, saying that “he is not only funny and can handle the language, but he also has this uncanny [knack] to tap into those darker shades.” The character’s “opportunism, glibness and ability to sway people and dominate them with his wiles” aligned well with Galindo’s natural personality, the director jokes.

Fellow Classical Theatre Company resident artist Julia Traber (The Importance of Being Earnest, Miss Julie, The Triumph of Love) plays the goodhearted sidekick Euelpides, who director Hays says has an “innocent confidence” that makes her seemingly straight-man part “funny while not coherent or entirely appropriate.” University of Houston alumnus Greg Cote also appears in the play as both an actor and a musician. “Greg’s been helping me arrange music for the show," Hays says." So there are a number of songs and musical moments in the show, a few riffs on songs from the 1960s. [Cote] has arranged, scored and instructed the cast on those moments.”

The director, who considers himself a student of comedy, says, “This play has an unconventional structure, with [basically] a revolving door of characters. It’s almost like sketch comedy. It’s almost modern in that way.”  Describing the parts played by Galindo and Traber as “straight man, funny man,” respectively, Hays likens the play to a “very strong, almost Abbott and Costello-type” routine. Additionally, the director warns that Aristophanes has a particular taste for “phallic humor,” comparing a few of the lewd gags to something you might catch in a Farrelly brothers movie. 

Upon the prospect of tackling another Greek comedy, Hays is skittish. “It’s a lot harder than I had imagined. The structure doesn’t resemble a play, [at least] as we would know it today. It’s more of a joke delivery system, and being a fan of comedy – someone who takes it rather seriously – it’s been a challenge to navigate.”  While not swearing off Old Comedy entirely, Hays believes he just needs a sabbatical.  “Someday, but not right away,” he says. “A modern play would be a wonderful palate cleanser.”

 Performances are scheduled for April 6-24 at 8 p.m. at Classical Theatre Company @ Chelsea Market. 4617 Montrose  #100. For information, call 713-963-9665 or visit classicaltheatre.org.

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