Wednesday, May 2, 2012

If We Were Birds by Erin Shields

In If We Were Birds, Toronto playright Erin Shields has retold one of Ovid's tales of rape and revenge. It is a happy coincidence that I saw another retelling of this story only a month ago, when The Love of the Nightingale was performed at the Walterdale Playhouse in Edmonton. I've also just finished re-reading Annabel Lyon's The Golden Mean, about Aristotle and Alexander the Great, and have started The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller's reinterpretation of the Iliad, so my head is deeply in the world of ancient Greece.

Pandion, King of Athens, gives his daughter Procne in marriage to King Tereus. Procne's younger sister Philomela is later raped by Tereus, and then her tongue is torn out so she cannot tell what happened. Eventually, Procne and Philomela join forces to take revenge on Tereus. Everyone morphs into birds at the end of this tragedy.

Shields' cheeky humour in the early part of the play is a welcome counterpoint to the horrific violence encountered later. The chorus of slave women, survivors of war right up to current times, add another level of poignancy and relevance. It's a powerful play and I hope to have the opportunity to see it performed sometime.

Readalike: The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood.

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