A gloriously neurotic, hilariously self-aware cri de coeur as told through a cleverly irreverent adaptation of Chekhov's The Seagull, Aaron Posner's Stupid Fucking Bird is the kind of bold that pays off. Speaking directly and unapologetically to an oft-neglected demographic – the swearing literate – Posner is, without doubt, an original American wit. He is dryly funny, educated and yet oozing the soulful sensibility and unpretentious frankness of an increasingly elusive species: the sensitive East Coast male.
But much as he may share a genre, Posner is no Woody Allen derivative. He tills his soil with a relentless quest for answers to his angst, mainly via his protagonist (and apparent playwriting alter ego) Con, but also in some of the adapted monologues of his other characters. Though Chekhov may have set an enduring structure of relevant and resilient themes, Posner pushes and expands them into urgent modern corners. And, in keeping with Chekhov's posit in his play that drama needs ''new forms,'' Posner offers his own – sometimes amusing, sometimes poignant – experiment by inventively breaking the fourth wall. Let's just hope it doesn't become a trend, since it's a liberty few will handle with Posner's skill.
Stupid Fucking Bird: Rick Foucheux, Brad Koedand, Darius Pierce
(Photo by Stan Barouh)
In the role of Con, the young playwright caught in the shadow of his dominating mother, his own self-doubt, and an unrequited love, Brad Koed delivers the necessary feverish urgency with nuances of anxiety, jadedness and some well-placed bewildered despair. Though he has great comic timing, Koed also carefully maintains Con's seriously teetering sense of self with a realism that makes the play's final moment both startling and moving.
Purveyor of much of the warm and contemporary humor of the piece, Darius Pierce gives the unrequited Dev, another young man in a state of longing, a perfectly pitched geeky savvy. The third player in the triangle of the unrequiteds, is Kimberly Gilbert as Mash, conceived here as a vaguely grunge/goth songstress with no interest in cheering up. Balancing the comedy with the more morose moods of the piece beautifully, she is compelling and memorable. As dominating mother Emma, Kate Eastwood Norris brings a strong contemporary brittleness that works well in Posner's context while Rick Foucheux brings the ideal blend of craft, realism and nuance to the quiet, poignantly anchoring, character of Sorn. Interestingly charismatic if not quite as mesmerizing as the character might be, Cody Nickell's Doyle is almost too likeable. As Conrad's love object and Doyle's target, Nina, Katie deBuys nicely exudes a young woman of shallow, if passionate, dreams and their gritty aftermath, though there is not quite enough frisson with either Con or Doyle.
Overall, the cast has the kind of synergy rarely seen outside a troupe that acts together regularly. And combined with director Howard Shalwitz's deeply simpatico execution of Posner's words, this wildly funny angst with its reflections, tongue-in-cheek and otherwise, on art, love, Chekhov and the theater-going public, is not to be missed.
Although also on the theme of the private lives of actors – and written by a playwright who injects his own angst into his material – Ferenc Molnar's early 20th century play The Guardsman, as translated by Richard Nelson, is a far different animal. An old-world comedy with a rather sad and cynical heart, its plot is reminiscent of the Batman film in which Val Kilmer's Bruce Wayne led Nicole Kidman's Dr. Meridian in a merry, sexy dance. Courting her as both the ''caped crusader'' and the billionaire, it was anyone's guess, at least for a while, whether she would go for the tuxedo or the rubber. Short of giving her a Cosmo quiz, it was the easiest way for Bruce to see into the heart of his girl.