MORE

Stupid Fucking Bird Is the Best Chekhov Adaptation in Two Decades

Matthew Floyd Miller and Amy Pietz in Stupid Fucking Bird
Matthew Floyd Miller and Amy Pietz in Stupid Fucking Bird
PHOTO BY ED KRIEGER

In Anton Chekhov's play The Seagull, about the theater and its ambiguous relationship to life, neurotic young playwright Konstantin Treplev speaks about the calcification of theater and of the necessity to create "new forms." As Treplev ages, he evolves and devolves into a long-suffering, modestly successful author of quasi-inventive plays that might pretend to have new forms but actually don't.

One of Treplev's works, in the gloriously fevered imagination of playwright Aaron Posner, is called Stupid Fucking Bird, co-presented by Circle X Theatre Company and Theatre @ Boston Court, and staged by Michael Michetti with loving, visually beautiful detail to the middle ground Posner finds between artistic revolution and complacency.

Stupid Fucking Bird is the most authentic, self-aware, playful, pathos-filled, unassuming and world-wise adaptation of Chekhov I've seen since Louis Malle's 1992 film, Vanya on 42nd Street. How does one have Chekhov speak to 21st-century America? See this production.

Posner's Treplev is named Conrad (Will Bradley). In one scene, he baits his Uncle Sorin (Arye Gross), who sheepishly admits that he thinks Cirque du Soleil is pretty good. By the way, as an extension of Conrad's play-opening outdoor "performance," all of the characters are fully aware they're in a play, and occasionally solicit suggestions for plot turns from the audience.

Conrad's following screed is directed mainly to Sorin but also to his odd best friend, Dev Dylan (Adam Silver):

"We need new kinds of theater! ... I mean, fuck, do you have any idea what's passing itself off as theater these days? Do you ever go? ... No, no, I know, you think you 'should,' but do you ever, of your own free will? ... I mean, this theater, this one, where we're doing this show right now, this one is better than most, maybe (who knows anymore), but Christ what they're doing to Shakespeare these days to make him "accessible"... and the tiny, tepid, clever-y clever-y clever-y little plays that are being produced by terrified theater just trying to keep ancient Jews and gay men and retired academics and a few random others who did plays in high school trickling in their doors ..."

Posner's play, too, recycles the clever-y clever-y interactive devices of theater and improv, and knows it, and says so. It isn't a revolutionary work, despite Conrad snapping "Fuck you!" to the image of Chekhov's looming face beamed onto the wall of Stephanie Kerley Schwartz's utilitarian set. Rather, it's Stoppardian smart and, despite its modest ambitions and occasional glimmers of self-deprecation, offers unexpectedly authentic and affecting insights into love's cruelties and the existential conundrums at the heart of Chekhov's plays. Much of this is thanks to the pathos and complexity offered by the flawless ensemble.

Bradley's nimble-footed, nimble-witted Conrad shows the tornado of passion swirling inside him, largely ignited by his unreturned passion for his muse, actress Nina (Zarah Mahler). Mahler reveals the subtle signs of her character's descent into lunacy as she chases the lover of Conrad's mother. That lover is here named Doyle Trigorin, and Matthew Floyd Miller renders him as a slender, bemused and blithely unapologetic cad.

Amy Pietz avoids all the pitfalls of cliché playing privileged, insecure, ferocious movie star Emma Arkadina, who struggles to contain Trigorin's wanderlust. Her self-importance and inflated entitlement come off with remarkable humanity and not the slightest twist of parody.

Charlotte Gulezian's husky-voiced cloud of doom Mash Amberson — secretly yearning for Conrad, and unable to say so — is a monument to the force of cynicism, which she expresses in brooding yet sugary ditties accompanied by herself on ukulele. She, like this play, ultimately finds contentment in compromise.

As Conrad's friend, Dev, Silver is a cheerful, simple, endearing bear of a man. He tries to explain to Mash the beauty he just saw in a parade of silly geese walking. He even impersonates one goose. The other characters look at him as though he's lost his mind. It provoked in me a twinge of heartache — but not as much as Gross' kindly Dr. Sorin, perplexed and subtly raging at the exigencies of aging: "Where was I during my 40s? I mean, I know I was there. I can show you my tax returns. But where was I?"

His words, like so many others in Posner's play, and Chekhov's, could be morose, but Gross won't allow it. Nor will director Michetti throughout his tender, technically savvy production. A sweet icing of cheerfulness and compassion allows the play's darker currents to simmer and arrive only when some emotional pipe bursts.

I can only imagine Chekhov's delight were he to see his play so wisely reinvented.

STUPID FUCKING BIRD | By Aaron Posner | Presented by Circle X Theatre Company and Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena | Through July 27 | (626) 683-6883 | bostoncourt.com

Use Current Location

Related Location

miles
Boston Court

70 N. Mentor Ave.
Pasadena, CA 91106

626-683-6883

www.bostoncourt.com


Sponsor Content

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >