Hope College Theatre's final production of the 2002-03 school year, "The Birds," a comedy by Aristophanes, will run Wednesday-Saturday, April 23-26.

Hope College Theatre's final production of the 2002-03 school year, "The Birds," a comedy by Aristophanes, will run Wednesday-Saturday, April 23-26.

Curtain time is 8 p.m. on Wednesday, April 23; 9 p.m. on Thursday, April 24; and 8 p.m. on Friday-Saturday, April 25-26. All performances will be in the DeWitt Center main theatre.

According to John Tammi, professor of theatre and director of "The Birds," Aristophanes is generally considered the first great writer of comedy in Western theatre.

Aristophanes, Tammi noted, wrote during the long struggle known as the Peloponnesian War, and criticized the deteriorating Athenean society by creating memorable characters embroiled in fantastic circumstances. Tammi said that the playwright was especially fond of featuring animals like frogs, wasps and birds as characters in his plays. Targets of his satirical wit included the war (which he was against), politics in general and demagoguery of all kinds.

"The Birds" was first performed at the annual City Dionysia Festival in Athens in 414 B.C. It tells the story of two Athenians, Pithetaerus and Euelpides, who set out in search of a better life than the one they have known in the crowded, noisy city which is full of annoying pests such as poets, lawyers, philosophers and tax collectors.

They seek out Epops, the king of the birds, for advice on an ideal place to settle. After some thought, they decide that the life of the birds is ideal for them and convince the king to create a new city, Cloud Cuckoo-land. They believe that having control of the air and the sacrificial smoke that passes through it will give them power to control both the gods and the mortals on Earth.

According to Tammi, the Hope version is attempting to embrace the spirit of Aristophanes' play by giving it a contemporary look, feel and sound.

"It is difficult to determine exactly what Aristophanes was most interested in satirizing in 'The Birds,'" Tammi said. "He takes swipes at many aspects of his society: the Athenians' fondness for litigation, various kinds of pretension, imperialistic ambition and the very concept of escapism and utopianism. What we can be certain of is that much of his humor came from references to current events in Athens. These historical references would be lost on a modern audience so we're finding new ones that may be relevant to our audience in 2003."

For the most part, according to Tammi, "The Birds" is a fantasy romp intended for entertainment following the heavy tragedies presented at the Athenian theatre festival. "Our approach has been to make the play funny and engaging for the audience. In a way, it can be seen as a celebration of spring," he said.

Tammi noted that discovering how to present the play has been very much a group effort.

"We started with an arrangement by Walter Kerr and improvised from there," he said. "Everyone has contributed to the look and sound of the production. It's been a pleasure just being around so many talented and innovative people."

The cast of 30 students is headed by Daniel L. Kwiatkowski, a junior from Cheboygan, as Pithetaerus, and Jared Adam DeBacker, a sophomore from Jonesville, as Euelpides.

Epops, the king of the birds, is being played by freshman Reginald Haney III of Harvey, Ill., and Epops' queen is being played by sophomore Lisa Warmus of Rochester, N.Y. Sophomore Olim Alimov of Yonkers, N.Y., plays a butler bird, and freshman David Paarlberg of Glen Rock, N.J., plays a priest-bird.

The chorus of birds includes: freshman Jessica Bodtke of Grand Junction; freshman Ashley Anne Boer of Modesto, Calif.; freshman Emily Casey of Wheaton, Ill.; freshman Alyssa Garcia of Belmont; sophomore Clarissa Stowell Gregory of Portage, Wis.; freshman Erica Hess of Howell; freshman Heather Janofski of Marquette; junior Megan Marie Jewell of Brighton; freshman Kate F. Pierri of Mundelein, Ill.; freshman Corrie Smith of Holland; and freshman Kendra Stock of St. Charles, Ill. Senior Joshua Brandenburg of Hamlin, N.Y., plays the Chorus Leader, and junior Adam C. Sherrett of Flushing plays the Captain of the birds.

The gods are represented in the play by: Neptune, played by freshman NoahDavid Lein of Kewadin; Hercules, played by senior Josh Rumpsa of Grand Rapids; Barbarian God, played by freshman Matt Schwabauer of Lakehurst, N.J.; Prometheus, played by freshman Eric Van Tassell of Spencer, Iowa; and Iris, played by junior Jessica Trakimas of Carmel, Ind.

Earth people are played by: freshman Mike Dominiak of Dearborn, as Poet; sophomore Keith Janofski of Marquette, as Prophet; freshman Zephyr Miller of Lansing, as Real Estate Agent; freshman Kat Ramsey of Kalamazoo, as Tax Collector; and Adam C. Sherrett, as Lawyer.

Freshman Jonathan Wesley White of Holland and junior Stephan Matthew Gombis of Countryside, Ill., play Messengers. David Paarlberg plays Herald.

Several students are participating in other significant capacities. Senior John Andersen of Hamilton is designing the setting. Sophomore Andrew Meyers of Churchville, N.Y., is musical director and has composed original music for the production. He is supported by members of the cast: Mike Dominiak, keyboard; Joshua Brandenberg, lead guitar; NoahDavid Lein, percussion; Corrie Smith, violin; and Josh Rumpsa, bass.

Sophomore Rachel Jamieson of Orchard Lake is co- props designer with faculty member Richard L. Smith and is creating puppets for the production. Sophomore Abby Youngerman of Royal Oak is co-designing costumes, hair and makeup with faculty member Michelle Bombe. Junior Amanda Joy Weener of Grand Rapids is serving as production stage manager. Lighting and sound design is by faculty member Perry Landes. Paul K. Anderson is technical director.

Tickets are $7 for regular admission, $5 for students and members of the college's faculty and staff, and $4 for senior citizens, and are available in the theatre lobby box office in the DeWitt Center. The box office is open Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 5 p.m., as well as until curtain time on performance nights, and can be called at (616) 395-7890.

The DeWitt Center is located on Columbia Avenue at 12th Street.