Stupid Fucking Bird

Aaron Posner’s “sort of” adaptation, the play with the name that many news media won’t reproduce verbatim, takes Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull and feeds it back on itself with the gain turned to 11. Just as William Forsythe hyperextended the classical ballet world’s preparatory steps, Posner injects taboo-word vernacular, monologues that baldly state subtext, and direct address of the audience (in and out of character) into Chekhov’s twisted comedy of artistic ambitions and daisy-chained love triangles—and comes up with something wickedly funny.

The play is Posner’s argument with Constantin Stanislavsky’s “method” of realistic theater. The tension is reflected in Misha Kachman’s set design, which swings from Act 1’s ambiguous, minimal space—a samovar that no one pours from, an exposed flyrail, a clearly artificial back wall, seven bentwood chairs, and a battered piano—to Act 2’s ultrarealistic apartment kitchen, its walls covered with every domestic utensil known to Williams-Sonoma. The argument is made explicit in a tour de force rant for Conrad (frantic Brad Koed), a plea for a new approach to theater in which he heckles playbill-scanning audience members.

It’s an argument with Chekhov’s arcane symbolism, too. I’m still looking for someone to explain to me why Nina thinks she is a (forgive me, birding community) seagull.

Yet, amid all this potty-mouthed Neo-Futurism, Howard Shalwitz’s direction never loses touch with emotional honesty. Rick Foucheux’s aging Sorn (sort of a smoothie blended from Chekhov’s characters Sorin and Dorn) quietly reminds us, “when you see an old guy, you never know,” and the passage is a heart-breaker. Kimberly Gilbert’s Beckettian Mash, so despondent that she can’t utter the word “hope” without three levels of Palinesque quotation marks around it, is pursued by Darius Pierce’s Dev, the sweetest shlub you’ll ever see on stage. And Gilbert shows some mad musical chops on the ukulele.

  • Stupid Fucking Bird, by Aaron Posner, sort of adapted from The Seagull by Anton Chekhov, directed by Howard Shalwitz, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Washington
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