By Aaron Posner; Directed by Davis McCallum
Off Broadway, New Play
Runs through 5.8.16
The Pearl Theater, 555 West 42nd Street
by Keith Paul Medelis on 3.30.16
The ensemble of Stupid Fucking Bird.
BOTTOM LINE: Tremendous work by a skilled acting ensemble, smart designers, and the keen, firm grip of director Davis McCallum; Stupid Fucking Bird by Aaron Posner is good fun both for Chekhov enthusiasts and those unfamiliar.
Aaron Posner positions us solidly within the realm of the original story of Chekhov's The Seagull. We’re at Emma Arkadina’s country retreat. Emma (the gifted Bianca Lochtefeld) is a famous actor. Her son Conrad (Christopher Sears, whom you will not be able to take your eyes off of), is a much more experimental artist, putting on a weird little play starring Nina (Marianna McClellan), with whom he is of course in love. And Mash (the enjoyable Joey Parsons) is in love with Con, though it isn’t requited. Oh, and Dev (Joe Paulik) is in love with Mash, also unrequited, at least for the first act. Emma’s brother Sorn (the extraordinarily grounded Dan Daily) provides some perspective from the wise older mind of one who has seen it all, wishing he had stopped to smell the flowers some more.
Naturally, things sour and change over the course of the play. And you’ll be assisted along in that story with direct narrations from the characters. One thing remains constant: Con’s unwavering love for Nina that charts the course for some serious compulsions and a pretty un-secret conclusion. As compared to Chekhov's original, there are some notable departures and eliminated characters that makes Posner’s play incredibly exciting for those in the know, yet rewarding in its own right for those who are not.
The much-loved complexity of the world of Anton Chekhov has attracted artists for over a century. His style of theater helped give birth to realism in modern acting, yet what was once revolutionary now feels commonplace, and all too often, tired. Posner has excelled tremendously in bringing back Chekhov's rebellious, revolutionary voice. “Why new forms?” Con says. “How about this for an idea: Just do the old forms BETTER!” Posner has taken all the complex characters, the brilliant monologues, the rich symbolism, and raised the bar for contemporary, fucking America. It’s angry, honest, smart, sensitive, and deeply moving. In many moments he robs us from the ultimate catharsis, sometimes allowing a character to dig deep into a monologue, then conveniently cutting them off at the zenith. This feels right too, combing some of the ideas of later masters—Brecht—to continue to make wholly new art from these old ideas.
A quick note on the extraordinary design work and uncompromised direction from Davis McCallum: Stupid Fucking Bird is a wonderfully conceived spectacle that takes full advantage of the interesting architecture of the theater we are in. In a play that examines theater’s relevance I can think of no better acknowledgement of the thing that has brought us all here today. Sandra Goldmark’s scenic design, marked by pop art graphics, exciting, exposed nooks, an ever-increasing realism, and finally a fragile emptiness, is on point. Amy Clark’s costumes are lived in. Mike Inwood rarely lowers the house lights and this embraces us in the play, only pushing us out when we need to be drawn in. McCallum never lets go of what could be a confusing mess, comfortably finding an important tone in this ensemble of gifted makers.
An explosive aggression lies at the core of this play. Con’s delivery of the symbolic seagull to Nina here takes on new life. How often, when in love, do we do things we cannot explain? How many of these are cries for closeness and acceptance? It’s unexplainable, though entirely sensible to a love-starved mind. And it’s the exploration of this unexplainable gap in human rationality that makes Stupid Fucking Bird so thrilling. We’re looking at the ideas of “realness” in one of the most “false” mediums possible. Posner frequently asks the audience for their advice. We sit observing the play, as if there is a wall between us—seeing ourselves up there, wondering if we may answer back.
(Stupid Fucking Bird is presented at The Pearl Theatre, 555 West 42nd Street, through May 8, 2016. The running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes, with one intermission. It runs in rep with The Dingdong, so the performance schedule varies. Performances (of either Stupid Fucking Bird or The Dingdong) are generally Mondays and Tuesdays at 7, Wednesdays at 2 and 7, Thursdays at 7, Fridays at 8, Saturdays at 2 and 8, and Sundays at 2 and 7. Tickets are $65-$85. For specific times, more information, and to buy tickets, visit pearltheatre.org or call 212-563-9261.)
Stupid Fucking Bird is written by Aaron Posner in a “sort of” adaptation from Anton Chekhov. It is directed by Davis McCallum. Scenic design by Sandra Goldmark. Lighting Design by Mike Inwood. Costume design by Amy Clark. Sound Design by Mikhail Fiksel. The Production Stage Manager is Katharine Whitney.
The cast features Biana Amato, Dan Daily, Erik Lochtefeld, Marianna McClellan, Joey Parsons, Joe Paulik, and Christopher Sears.