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The Parliament of the Birds is part of Soulpepper’s series of international classics, Around the World in 80 Plays.Yuri Arcurs/Handout

With stages still shuttered here in Toronto, I’ve pivoted from theatre critic to birder this spring.

I’ve installed a feeder in my backyard that attracts mainly sparrows and the occasional cardinal – and my son regularly demands to be taken to the “duck park” – that is, High Park, where I’ve finally learned the difference between mallards and wood ducks.

But I’ve also been listening to birds on nighttime walks around town – on my phone, through my headphones. Two theatre companies have recently released audio dramas that feature pigeons and hoopoes and falcons (oh my!) as the cast of characters.

The Toronto Pigeons, written by Luke Reece and directed by Marcel Stewart, is part of Factory Theatre’s excellent and easily binge-able You Can’t Get There From Here audio play series, which is available for free through Apple Podcasts or online until September. (Donations to Factory are welcome.)

Set during the Toronto Raptors playoff run in 2019, the play focuses on a pair of basketball-loving pigeons named Trae (played by Reece himself) and A.C. (Trevlyn Kennedy) who hang out above the outdoor fan zone known as Jurassic Park. The arrival in town from Peterborough, Ont., of a new bird named Klaw (Britta B) changes their dynamic – and ultimately leads to an action-packed climax in the airspace around the CN Tower as the Raptors try to clinch the NBA championship.

Reece – a National Slam Poet Champion – has ultimately penned a charming audio show drawing on the spoken-word style to poignantly explore the love-hate relationship so many people in Toronto have with the city they live in, and the reasons those of us who stay here choose to do so despite it all. (Long-suffering Leafs fans might find it a balm after Monday’s brutal loss to the Canadiens.)

The Parliament of the Birds premiered last week as part of Soulpepper’s pay-what-you-choose series of international classics, Around the World in 80 Plays. It is a brand-new free adaptation of 12th-century Persian poet Farid Ud-Din Attar’s The Conference of the Birds penned by local playwright Guillermo Verdecchia and directed by Soheil Parsa (who recently announced he was stepping down as artistic director of Modern Times Stage Company after 31 years).

Originally written by Verdecchia with the stage in mind, this hour-and-a-half show is an epic poetic and philosophical drama that sees a diverse flock of birds troubled by the state of the world setting off in search of the mythical Simorgh through seven mystical valleys. The cast includes Jani Lauzon as the Hoopoe who leads that journey, and Oliver Dennis and Christof Desir as Crow and Parrot, whose quarrels along the way give the play much of its political bite. The voice acting under the guidance of Parsa is excellent across the board – though I particularly enjoyed Beatriz Pizano’s melancholy Cardinal.

By the way: If you think there’s something strange or childish about a play with birds as characters, let me point you to the history of Western theatre, from Aristophanes’ The Birds to Erin Shields’ If We Were Birds. You can learn a lot about being a human from our fine-feathered friends – as my birdwatching and bird-listening expeditions have been reinforcing for me.

Opening this week: The Charlottetown Festival is starting performances of the first show of its 2021 summer season – indoors, to a real, live in-person audience on Thursday. Fingers crossed.

But the process of getting Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland’s production of Between Breaths – which is inspired by the true story of Dr. Jon Lien, a.k.a. the Whale Man – on the stage at the Confederation Centre for the Arts has been more complicated than originally thought when the run was announced in early April.

The Atlantic Bubble did not open on April 19 as was initially expected, because of a new wave of COVID-19 cases – so the audience for this show, at least, will be all Islanders. (We’re talking 300 masked audience members at a time spread out around the centre’s 1,100-seat mainstage auditorium.)

Because of the provincial border issues, the Artistic Fraud team rehearsed the show (which has been in their repertoire for a couple of years) in St. John’s – and then put the actors and creative team on a charter flight to Charlottetown. They had to do so because there are no direct commercial flights between St. John’s and Charlottetown, the route through Halifax is on a reduced schedule, and transferring in Montreal increased the risk of transmission too much.

Between Breaths’ team then spent two weeks quarantining in a hotel in Charlottetown – and only entered the Confederation Centre for the Arts yesterday to start rehearsing on the stage they’ll be performing on until June 19. What dedication to craft and safety it takes to put on a play right now. “Break a leg” to all involved.

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