University of Rochester

Madness and Sanity Collide on Stage in Rochester's The Colonel Bird

November 21, 2011

International Theatre Program Performs Hristo Boytchev's Political Satire at Todd Theatre

Defying the odds and reasonable expectations, the troubled inmates of a forgotten insane asylum transform themselves into a disciplined military unit in Hristo Boytchev's award-winning satiric drama, The Colonel Bird. Performed by the International Theatre Program, the play opens at the University of Rochester at Todd Theatre on Thursday, Dec. 1.

Described as a politicized One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Rochester's artistic director Nigel Maister, the play follows six patients and a morphine-addicted doctor stranded without provisions or heat in an abandoned monastery in the Balkan Mountains. Just as they begin to lose hope, UN peacekeeping planes mistakenly drop humanitarian-aid boxes containing military uniforms and food in their yard. One of the patients, a former catatonic colonel, suddenly regains his voice and takes command of the ragtag group. The patients transform into a combat military unit with a new sense of pride and discipline. They declare themselves an independent European nation, and sustain their illusion all the way to the United Nations building in Strasbourg, France.

"Our visiting guest artist Chris Weare brings a wealth of experience and a defined and exciting directorial vision to this play and to working with our student actors," remarks Maister.

In order to appeal to a college audience steeped in television and film, Weare cuts together segments of dialogue to produce a montage-like effect, and keeps the action frenetic. The production's sets evoke the distressed, decrepit interior of an abandoned, industrial sanatorium. The alley staging, which puts the audience on either side of the stage, allows the audience members to see each other and blurs the distinction between spectator and performer.

Weare is an associate professor at the University of Cape Town Department of Drama in South Africa, as well as the director of its Little Theatre. He also is the founder and artistic director of a theater company, The Mechanicals Collective, and creator of the university's Intimate Theatre, founded to provide a theater space for young thespians.

Written by Bulgarian playwright Hristo Boytchev in 1995, the play is a satire on post-communist Eastern Europe. He later received a state subsidy to shoot The Colonel Bird as a film, and in 1997 the play was awarded the British Council's International Playwriting Award for Best Play in its international playwriting competition. It has since been staged at the Festival d'Avignon by the Paris-based Theatre de la Commune d'Aubervilles and at the 2000 Bonner Biennale by the Pleven Theatre in Bulgaria, as well as in 30 other countries. This English version is translated by Judith Sprostranova.

The production's scenery and costumes are by Princess Grace Fellow Arnulfo Maldonado whose previous work with the International Theatre Program includes The Illusion and The Hairy Dutchman. Dans Sheehan designs the lighting. Sheehan's work has been seen numerous times in New York City and elsewhere, including in Elevator Repair Service's acclaimed Sound & the Fury and The Select. Sound design is by Will Pickens, a frequent collaborator with the University of Rochester International Theatre Program and at Geva Theatre Center. Liz Mills, another visiting guest artist from South Africa, and Weare's wife, serves as the production's voice and acting coach.

The Colonel Bird opens on Thursday, Dec. 1, and runs through Saturday, Dec. 10, in Todd Theatre on the University of Rochester's River Campus. Tickets are $7 for Rochester students; $10 for alumni, faculty, staff, and seniors (55 and over); and $13 for the general public. Tickets may be purchased up to an hour before each performance at the box office. They also are available online at, or by calling (585) 275-4088.