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Plot elusive in nonetheless enjoyable political satire

By Alan Blyth
Friday, February 8
Review: “Birdie Died in Glen” by Tamaz Chiladze, directed by Robert Sturua

“Birdie Died in Glen,” by the acclaimed Georgian writer Tamaz Chiladze, is the latest cryptic, fictional political satire to be staged by Robert Sturua at the Rustaveli Theatre. The key character is Andro, the president of Georgia (Beso Zanguri), who throughout the play dithers over whether to sign a document—the purpose of which is not made clear.

President Andro’s first words are “Hail to Freedom!” And this exclamation is clearly a key point, because it is repeated every time Davit, his father (Gogi Barbakadze), makes a partial entrance, via the stage trap door, waving two flags: Georgia’s first post-independence flag and the European Union flag. Why that Georgian flag and the exclamation? As with a lot of things in this play there can be no certainty, but they could be clues that the play is set in the early 90s, shortly after Georgia freed itself from the Soviet shackles.

If there is a plot to this play, it eluded me despite having the benefit of a simultaneous English translation courtesy of the British Council. What we have is a number of one-to-one conversations between the president and others in which we learn that he has fallen out with previous political allies, notably Vakhtang (Gagi Svanidze) with whom he had pledged brotherhood in the past. There is also mention of misappropriation of public assets, corruption, betrayal, relationships and infidelity, but unfortunately they are really just a tally of woes and they don’t really add up to an obvious substantive storyline.

I found Temur Ninua’s set fascinating because all the action takes place in front of the fire curtain, thereby cutting off the greater part of the stage. However, a bit of extra room is provided for the players by a temporary extension of the stage which blocks off the first row of the stalls. It’s almost as if the president is hemmed in—with few options available to him. As for the numbers and arrows on the rocks, and other elements of the set, one can only speculate as to their meaning.

The cast could not be faulted—they gave a thoroughly professional performance, which the audience clearly appreciated. But special mention must be given to Beso Zanguri because he did not show any signs of flagging, despite having to perform almost continuously for the whole ninety minutes or so of this one-act play.

Overall, “Birdie Died in Glen” is an enjoyable piece of light entertainment, and it is worth mentioning that Beso Zanguri also plays the part of the Georgian president in Sturua’s “Soldier, Love, Bodyguard and…the President,” another political satire which is staged from time-to-time at the Rustaveli Theatre. Could the two plays be connected? It’s all good grist for inquiring minds.