“If you’re afraid of loneliness,” renowned 19th- and 20th-century Russian playwright Anton Chekhov asserted, “don’t ever get married.” Andy was also a doctor, and he arguably drew his conclusion from his caseload of real-life patients, whose turns at wedlock (and the romantic love that goes with it) proved their undoing amid the brutal assaults on their identities in the grit of day.
“There’s one thing worse than being alone,” the physician might have wearily deadpanned after a typical day at the office, “and that’s wishing you were.”
But he didn’t. He didn’t have to. He got busy and wrote The Seagull, which in 1898 chronicled beleaguered theater maven Konstantin Treplev’s all-consuming fire for his impulsive muse Nina (the complexities finally end when Konstantin, no stranger to suicidal ideation, sends a bullet through his brain). There’s more to the story than that, of course, as every one of the characters is in love with exactly the wrong match — same for Stupid F**king Bird, a good sort-of adaptation courtesy Cygnet Theatre Company. A few of the Seagull folks are missing, and everybody goes by a nickname per the modern vernacular — but Aaron Posner’s script does have a certain ring to it amid the playwright’s obvious love for his craft and our accessibility to his great predecessor.
This is a trifle compared with the melancholy that Chekhov was so colossal at contriving, but that doesn’t make it a bad play.
Playwright Con is a tortured soul amid two things — the sucky state of modern theater and his fear that prima donna love-of-his-life Nina is slipping away. If he’d only look around, he could take comfort in the arms of smart-ass, uke-toting Mash, who loves Con as surely as she does herself. Meanwhile, good egg Dev is hot for Mash, and smoothie Trig loves Con’s mom Emma and wouldn’t mind some sack time with Nina, whose coyness parallels avuncular Sorn’s lover-not-a-fighter take. Everybody’s got a mess on his and her hands and hearts, with Con’s unrequited affections melding into his frustration with performance art (“How about this for an idea,” he sizzes: “Just do the old forms better,” the way he thinks he’s done in adapting The Seagull to Bird).
Indeed, both plays reflect one another (Con and Konstantin kill seagulls out of love for their respective Ninas and declare their inclinations toward suicide if the girls don’t come around; Posner’s Trig parallels Chekhov’s writer Boris Trigorin amid his refined bearing and his declaration that the writing life sucks candied yams as often as not). In fact, the cool thing about each show is that it involves such basically OK people (Emma’s a bigmouth, and each Nina is an odd duck, but at least everybody knows what he and she wants — or says so).
Love and art, however, have other ideas. In Bird, those ideas morph into collective disarray among the characters — clearly, they can’t follow their own advice even as their perfect mates (themselves) impatiently wait in the wings. Youthful carriages; cast members watching the action; all the raucous, insistent choreography: The modern audience will get every whit what Chekhov was driving at, amid modernist trappings to boot.
Ro Boddie’s heartsick, excellent Con lays it on the line 24/7, and the best thing is that he doesn’t give a goddamn what you think (the character’s eccentricities, though, tend to mute when he solicits audience input on what to do about Nina). Jacque Wilke does some extraordinary things with Mash, chiefly when she tries to match wits with her beloved. Karole Foreman’s bossy Emma, Francis Gercke’s cerebral Trig, Walter Murray’s huggy-bear Sorn, Brian Rickel’s harmless Dev and Rachel Esther Tate’s wistful Emma are masterful in rolling with the play’s sea of interaction, although Tate could stand to project a little more. Director Rob Lutfy has cast very, very well to type, just as choreographer Michael Mizerany has kept an eye out for particular physical affectations when mapping his routines.
Why go to ‘Bird’ when we already have ‘The Seagull’?
Andrew Hull’s set waxes a tad toward the schizophrenic in its dualism; meanwhile, costumer Veronica Murphy’s color choices play well under R. Craig Wolf’s lights, while David Scott’s sound is contemplative in the extreme.
As you’d figure, Stupid F**king Bird has a boatload of wash-your-mouth-out-with-soap barbs in it, and it features two semi-lit, brief installments of female f**king nudity. In no case are these elements close to ingratiating; neither are they in the least opportunistic. Chekhov (who always said his day’s stage conventions scared him) would have enjoyed these and the endless other treatments here — meanwhile, his approval might beg the obvious question: Why go to Bird when we already have The Seagull?
Because, as an old theater prof of mine was fond of saying: Everything is everything.
This review is based on the matinee performance of May 29. Stupid F**king Bird runs through June 19 at Old Town Theatre, 4040 Twiggs St., Old Town. $36-$57. 619-337-1525, cygnettheatre.com.