Phèdre les oiseaux (Phaedra the birds) is an international theater project developed to engage communities around the globe. Led by director Jean-Baptiste Sastre, with original text by playwright Frédéric Boyer, Phèdre les oiseaux draws from the poetic figures Phaedra and her stepson Hippolytus, with whom she falls in love. Going beyond a retelling of the classic story, Phèdre les oiseaux is set in a modern world, centering on a woman and man who bring to life the characters of the ancient Greek tragedy and their tale of forbidden love. Phaedra, a condemned woman, attempts to deliver herself from the persecution of history and the criminalization of her lust for Hippolytus. Her story of feminine antiquity becomes a modern story, examining through a contemporary lens themes of morality, sexual intrigue, and betrayal that inhabit cultural myths.
Phaedra is performed by actress Hiam Abbass, an acclaimed, multilingual performer best known for her roles in international films directed by Steven Spielberg, Thomas McCarthy, Julian Schnabel, Patrice Chéreau, among others. Phèdre les oiseaux, which will be performed at BAC in English, has been translated and developed to be performed in several languages. The versions in French, English, and Arabic feature Abbass in the title role.
As the production tours, the role of Hippolytus is cast from the country where it is performed. For the New York engagement, Abbass is joined by Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine. The Los Angeles-based actor’s theater credits include productions at REDCAT, Lincoln Center, and his heralded one-man show Biro, which premiered at The Public Theater in 2004.
An integral component of Phèdre les oiseaux is a Greek chorus comprised of community members from the city where the work is performed. For the presentation at BAC, the chorus will comprise 30 multi-generational community members from the Brooklyn-based group Haïtian-Americans in Action, who will work with Sastre and Abbass during an intensive rehearsal period leading up to the premiere. The chorus’s singing and narration will be performed in English, French, and Haitian Creole.
Phèdre les oiseaux premiered March 2012 at the CDDB Théâtre de Lorient and has been performed throughout Europe in France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, and recently had its U.S. Premiere in Los Angeles. Following the performances at BAC, Phèdre les oiseaux goes on to Marseille, France, and Tangier, Morocco, followed by a tour of Palestine and Israel.