People often wonder how come there always seems to be a revival of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, playing somewhere, and the answer might as well be contained in Aaron Posner’s Stupid F**king Bird, a “sorta” adaptation of the famous play that turns it inside out in unexpected, fresh ways, without forgetting to be in awe of the very malleability that makes it legendary in the first place. One could almost imagine Posner as a young writer, pulling at his hair in the middle of the night, trying to crack how Chekhov could craft something as brilliant as The Seagull, and then deciding that perhaps the way to find his own voice would be to write about his attempt at unlocking the secrets of others. And boy did it pay off, for Stupid F**king Bird is a towering achievement that challenges the notion of theatrical form, in the same way Hamilton defies musical conventions (no surprise there is even a Hamilton joke in Posner’s play).
Stupid F**king Bird riffs on the characters of The Seagull making it an Easter egg hunt of a treat for Chekhov connoisseurs, but making them modern enough to appeal to people who wouldn’t touch classic Russian theatre with a ten foot pole. At the center of the sorta-plot is Conrad (Christopher Sears), a playwright desperately trying to make a lasting impression on the two women he worships the most: his muse Nina (Marianna McClellan) and his mother, famous movie star Emma (Bianca Amato). When Emma arrives for a visit with her famous writer boyfriend Doyle Trigorin (Erik Lochtefeld), Conrad loses both his loves to the passive celebrity, who unwittingly seduces the impressionable Nina, and keeps Emma tied to an invisible leash, he doesn’t even seem aware to possess.
Rounding out the peculiar set of characters are Conrad’s best friend Dev (Joe Paulik), a goth apathetic Mash (Joey Parsons), and Emma’s doctor brother Eugene (Dan Daily), and needless to say so, if you know The Seagull, you know very well what will happen to each of them. Under Davis McCallum’s witty direction, Stupid F**king Bird becomes the rare show that feels as if it just manifested onstage after someone conjured it, every scene so raw and free of self-consciousness, that it almost feels improvised.
But existential chaos of this magnitude can only be portrayed onstage by a company in complete control of their craft, and the way in which the actors and brilliant crew behind Stupid F**king Bird play with the form is astonishing. Maintaining the soul of Chekhov’s piercing play, there are references to Hamlet, Dickens, Brecht, Pina Bausch and at one point, several characters take on the role of a Greek chorus, making the play encompass the entire history of theatre, while challenging its artifice. There are constant fourth wall breaks in which characters address the audience directly - sometimes the audience participates - which often provides the play with a bigger heart than it thinks it has, after all by “listening” to the audience, they are allowing them to be part of the creation process, in ways Conrad feels he never will have.
The ensemble is outstanding, with Sears infusing Conrad with angst the likes of which would make James Dean feel “chill”, Daily stealing scene after scene with a heartwarming wisdom, and Amato turning her Emma into an Arkadina for the ages, a self-created monster who can’t help but display her humanity, even despite her strongest will (the “bandage scene” in particular is revelatory). There is so much of value in Stupid F**king Bird, that perhaps a single visit to The Pearl Theatre might be insufficient to take in all of its richness. For a show to be so generous in its sharing of intellectual ponderings, while providing undeniable entertainment is truly a strange, beautiful thing to behold.