Ubuntu and Inferno Collaborate on a Famous Sufi Fable

The play is based on Iranian-American poet Sholeh Wolpé recently released and acclaimed new English translation of the poem and parable.


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Ubuntu and Inferno co-produce a symbolic parable.

Photo by Ben Elie

Last year Iranian-American poet Sholeh Wolpé released an acclaimed new English translation of The Conference of the Birds, the famous 12th-century Sufi poem by Farid ud-Din Attar considered a masterpiece of Persian literature. Now Wolpé has adapted the story into a play with which the inventive new Oakland theater company Ubuntu Theater Project is closing its 2018, in a co-production with Berkeley’s Inferno Theatre.

This is hardly the first time the story has been adapted into a play. Notably, the great British director Peter Brook and his Mahabharata collaborator Jean-Claude Carrière adapted it and toured it around Africa in the 1970s.

In this symbolic parable, the birds of the world, led by the sage hoopoe, go on an epic quest through seven valleys to try to find the mythical bird the Simorgh to be their king. Each of the birds—few of which actually make it all the way—represents a different human flaw, and each of the valleys represents a difficult but necessary stage of enlightenment. What they find at the end of the quest is a revelation unlooked for.

Inferno artistic director Giulio Cesare Perrone directs the world premiere production at the old Oakland church Brooklyn Preserve, after a workshop production in Berkeley this April.  

The Conference of the Birds, Nov. 30-Dec. 16, 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m. or 2 p.m. Sun., $15-$45, Brooklyn Preserve, 1433 12th Ave., Oakland, UbuntuTheaterProject.com.

This report was originally published in our sister publication, the East Bay Monthly.

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