Raanan Hershberg, Katye Heim, Ryan Watson, Gracie Taylor, Phil Lynch, & Carol Dines in Stupid F*#%ing Bird. Photo courtesy The Bard’s Town.
Stupid F*#%ing Bird
By Aaron Posner, sort of adapted from The Seagull by Anton Chekhov
Directed by Scot Atkinson
Original songs by James Sugg
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2016 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Unrelentingly scabrous in tone, but surprisingly engaging, Aaron Posner’s Stupid Fucking Bird (actual unedited title) is furiously funny. The Bard’s Town Theatre may be coy with the spelling in promotional materials, but director Scot Atkinson allows no such restrictions in his staging.
Although Atkinson makes light of it in his program notes, the play is a loose adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull that is more true to its source than one might expect. Con (Ryan Watson) is a performance artist and the son of famed actress Emma (Carol Dines). He loves Nina (Gracie Taylor), who is featured in his most recent work. Nina does not love Con, but Con is loved by Mash (Katye Heim), who is in turn loved by Con’s friend Dev (Raanan Hershberg). Emma’s new beau is celebrated novelist Trig (Phil Lynch), whom Con despises. Outside this convoluted, emotionally viral circle is Sorn (Sean Childress), an amiable doctor and friend.
Chekhov wrote comedies that are often mistaken for tragedies. Posner wrenches the farcical sensibility of the text free from the dusty confines of the “classics” and injects it with a profane and well-observed contemporary aesthetic. The dialogue is sharp and built for speed, and the actors deliver it at the right tempo.
For the second time in recent weeks, a production has made me especially mindful of the importance of casting. Ryan Watson seems so perfect as the tortured Con; there aren’t many actors in Louisville I can imagine taking his place. Rapid, manic speech is a Watson specialty, and he knows how to maintain emotional clarity and intention amidst the rush of words. Carol Dines’ Emma is an appropriate foil for Con’s unbalanced personality and a model of the kind of monstrous yet still sympathetic mother figure made famous by Joan Crawford. Katye Heim and Gracie Taylor are a study in contrasts as Mash and Nina: Heim a dark, mournful presence who channels the deadpan stylings of Garfunkel and Oates in two songs, and Taylor a guileless nymphet all too ready to use her sexuality to connect with men. Phil Lynch does well with the slightly pompous Trig, a somewhat less emotionally complicated character than the others, and Sean Childress is nicely bemused and avuncular as the friend who is witness to all the conflict and self-loathing but stays above the fray.
Stand-up comic Raanan Hershberg is also highly effective as Dev, whose self-description (“a Mexican, frigid Big Boy”) is an answer to Posner’s invitation to tailor the script to the specifics of cast and venue. Direct statements to the audience and references to The Bard’s Town break the fourth wall with abandon. It all reinforces Posner’s themes beautifully. Self-obsession and the delusions of grandeur that plague modern society are themes not far removed from Chekhov. In Act One, there is a moment that seems to be a biting parody of pretentious performance art; the absurd scene is echoed more seriously in Act Two by Emma’s monologue addressed to Con. The text is solidly grounded in human experience, no matter how ridiculous the action onstage.
The austere set provides a semi-abstract platform for the play’s hijinks, and Atkinson keeps his blocking mostly simple and straightforward. There are a few instances where the actors all talk concurrently, but even these scenes of babel are constructed so as to avoid becoming meaningless noise and clutter.
At one point, Trig exclaims that he sometimes wishes society would “STOP MAKING ART” so that we might allow ourselves sufficient time to appreciate everything that has been created thus far. Stupid Fucking Bird leaves room for both creating and contemplating.
Stupid F*#%ing Bird
April 8-10, 15-17, and 21-23 at 7:30 pm
Advance Tickets $16 ($15 seniors, $14 students )
At the door: $18 ($17 seniors, $16 students)
The Bard’s Town Theatre
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the day, including being the host of PUBLIC on ARTxFM/WXOX-LP, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, Theatre Louisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.