By Punch Preview Correspondent Lindsey Clark
“Why do I want to change the world? Because it NEEDS CHANGING!” – Conrad in Stupid F###ing Bird
Playwright Aaron Posner took on a serious challenge when he sat down to re-craft Anton Chekhov’s renowned play The Seagull. Considered one of the Russian dramatist’s most important works, the story abounds with angst, unrequited love, broken hearts, suicide attempts, family dynamics, and the struggle we all feel to create something that matters – to affect change and to leave a lasting impression on the world. A hundred years after its premiere in Moscow, the themes woven throughout the play still remain relevant, and thanks to Posner’s sharp-witted and creative spin, Chekhov’s revolutionary spirit is reborn on stage in the world premiere of Stupid F###ing Bird at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.
Conrad (Brad Koed) is desperate for some sort of connection – he has grown up in the shadow of his mother’s spotlight, and her narcissistic parenting skills have left him feeling unfulfilled, unsatisfied, and unable to live up to her expectations. Competing for the attention of a woman who constantly needs to be the center of attention herself has proven to be a losing battle and the fledgling playwright tries in vain to impress his mother with his own work, only to be let down time and time again. Emma (Kate Eastwood Norris), a mother at 19 and a film star by 22, can’t seem to take her son seriously as an artist, and is as dismissive of his attempts at success as she is distant – the world is her stage and she simply does not have time to indulge Conrad’s needs when she has her own to consider. Finding some validation in his relationship with aspiring actress girlfriend, Nina (Katie Debuys), Conrad seeks from her the approval and affection that he’s never had at home (because that always works out well), but she also has her sights on bigger and better things – like Emma’s boyfriend. Acclaimed writer Doyle Trigorin (Cody Nickell) is easily enchanted by Nina’s youth and enthusiasm, sending Conrad into an emotional tailspin over the thought of losing the woman he considers to be his life.
Adding to the steadily building tension is Emma’s often overlooked older brother, Sorn (Rick Foucheux), who has long been keeping his feelings of emptiness to himself, and lovelorn Mash (Kimberly Gilbert), whose hopeless and unreturned love for Conrad leads her to live under a cloud of gloom, surrounding herself with misery and the cast off crumpled song lyrics she is always working on. While Mash looks longingly at Conrad, his best friend Dev (Darius Pierce) is looking longingly at her – which, not surprisingly, is a recipe for disappointment. And there is a lot of that in Bird. The characters often grapple with the let downs and loneliness we all face in life- but before you assume the show is a Debbie Downer, let me say that Posner balanced the somber undertones of Bird with some of the funniest dialogue I have heard on the stage. In an interesting and non-traditional twist, the cast engages the audience in conversation – literally – and they are just as aware of us as we are of them. Posner and Director Howard Shalwitz have blurred the line between where the acting ends and where real life begins – and with fantastic results. Between the tears of laughter and the thought-provoking questions on my mind when I left Woolly, Bird is a lasting theatre experience that blends Chekhov’s classic story with modern, almost reality tv-inspired drama – and also (as evident in the play’s title) a whole lot of expletives.
Stupid F###ing Bird runs at Woolly Mammoth through June 23. I have to mention the incredible interactive “stupid f###ing lobby experience” where you can have your Instagram photos projected on the wall, rearrange Chekhov’s writings into your own creation, and search for art that has left a lasting impression on you and your life - it seriously beats standing around awkwardly trying to balance a drink and a snack in your hands during intermission. Tickets and performance calendars are available here - cheap date night is on Sunday, June 9th (tickets are $20). Bird is closing out Woolly’s 33rd season with a serious f###ing bang. Don’t miss the chance to see it.
As the Punch Premiere Correspondent, Lindsey covers all things music and theater related. When not writing for Pamela’s Punch, Lindsey has a seriously sweet gig as Executive Assistant at the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (www.pcah.gov). Aside from writing and seeing as much live music as possible, you can usually find her on a running trail, in front of a painting, staring at her dog, Lincoln, or hanging out with her big sister and fellow Punch Correspondent Niki Clark. Follow her on twitter @lindseykayclark. Contact Lindsey at firstname.lastname@example.org.