Review: High-Flying Stupid Fucking Bird Takes Off on Chekhov

Luke Sorge and Jaimie Rebekah Morgan in Stupid Fucking Bird.
Luke Sorge and Jaimie Rebekah Morgan in Stupid Fucking Bird.
Michael Ensminger

When you think about Chekhov, the usual image is a stage filled with unhappy people, all yearning for something unattainable. That’s also what you get with Aaron Posner’s Stupid Fucking Bird, a take-off on Chekhov’s The Seagull — but this is a hybrid, a parody with a certain amount of serious emotional soul, and so you also get an extended meditation on the art of play-writing. The protagonist, Con, is the spinmeister who sets the evening in motion and keeps it moving. He agonizes about the state of contemporary theater — all the “clevery, clevery” small-cast plays that don’t reveal anything new or in any way change the real world. The arts — as Auden once said of poetry — make nothing happen. Except that in some cultures and countries, they do. When Con mentions Eastern Europe, you may recall the role played by writers and musicians in Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution.

When Con isn’t agonizing about art, he’s mooning over the young beautiful actress Nina. Nina is fond of Con but has a major crush on Trig, a famous author not given to soul-searching who’s the lover of Con’s neglectful mother, the imperious actress Emma. Almost everyone, in fact, is hopelessly in love. Mash, a local, yearns for Con, and young Dev yearns for her. Emma struggles to hold on to Trig, who’s entranced by Nina. A somewhat detached inhabitant of this lovelorn world is Emma’s bachelor brother, Sorn.

The plot hews closely to the plot of The Seagull — like Konstantin, Con is an experimental writer who loathes Trig’s conventional success — but this Fucking Bird is swift and funny, and also self-referential. In an M.C. Escher-ish way, the play itself is Con’s creation; he creates it as it unfolds. It subverts Chekhov, a sketch of whom adorns the set, and author Posner has sneaky fun with Chekhov’s famous axiom that if a gun appears in act one, it must go off before act three. The actors address the audience directly. Con even asks for advice on how to win Nina — though I couldn’t help wondering why, as the play’s supposed author, he couldn’t just rewrite the script.

Brian Shea and Jaimie Rebekah Morgan.EXPAND
Brian Shea and Jaimie Rebekah Morgan.
Daniel Leonard

People in Chekhov almost never come right out and voice their desires directly, so the most audacious subversion in Stupid Fucking Bird occurs when the characters face the audience and speak as a group: “I just want to be loved,” say several. “Sweet first kisses,” comments Trig. Nina hopes to “ignite the world,” while Emma would like people to stop hating her. And Sorn just longs for a hug.

Director Stephen Weitz’s pacing is excellent, and so is his casting. The aging actress desperately clinging to her looks and fame is a cliché, but Diana Dresser’s performance as Emma is full of wit and insight, and the moment that she bares herself to Trig — both figuratively and (almost) literally — is one of the production’s most resonant. Brian Gregory Shea is a standout as enigmatic Trig, giving the role an avuncular but detached charm. I’ve seen Ian Andersen do funny often, and always well, but here he walks the line beautifully between funny and sweet: Dev may be seen by the others as a bit of a dope, but he’s also the only one clear enough about what he wants to actually get it. Mash has the play’s sole direct Seagull quotation: Masha’s “I am in mourning for my life. I am unhappy.” You can see it as either profound or absurdly self-absorbed, and Rebecca Remaly manages to make it both. Luke Sorge gives Con feeling and intellect, and Bob Buckley makes Sorn’s thoughts on his lonely mornings touching. Jaimie Rebekah Morgan’s Nina is a gift to the production. You can’t pin her down: Sometimes she glimmers like dancing flame; sometimes she’s gawky and ridiculous. You can see why this flickering, shape-changing young girl fires men’s imaginations.

Con wants to transform theater; maybe someday Posner will manage to make transformations happen himself. Despite his play’s many strengths, however, Stupid Fucking Bird ends up being more “clevery, clevery” than profound. But it’s also smart, funny, inventive, sometimes moving — and a hell of an entertaining way to pass an evening. 

Stupid Fucking Bird, presented by the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company through Wednesday, April 15, Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut Street, Boulder, 888-512-7469, boulderensembletheatre.org.

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Dairy Arts Center

2590 Walnut St.
Boulder, CO 80302

303-440-7826

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