Posner’s “Stupid F---ing Bird” is a play about love and art and an attempt to deconstruct Chekhov’s “The Seagull.” But it falls short, despite strong actors and good set design.
He has scorn for his mother, Emma (Kate Eastwood Norris), a successful actress, and her lover, Doyle (Cody Nickell), a literary genius. He feels contempt for Mash (Kimberly Gilbert), a young woman in love with him. Mash is loved by Conrad’s friend Dev (Darius Pierce), but she doesn’t love him. Conrad does love Nina (Katie deBuys), who leaves him for Doyle. Observing this embarrassment of unrequited love flare up and cool down is Sorn (Rich Foucheux), Emma’s long-suffering brother and Conrad’s long-suffering uncle.
Norris and Nickell are married in real life, which is perhaps why their chemistry and their obvious comfort with each other makes Emma’s and Doyle’s one of the few relationships on stage that feels genuine. They are also practiced Shakespearian actors and have worked with Posner several times, including opposite each other in the recent Posner-directed production of “The Taming of the Shrew” at The Folger Shakespeare Theatre.
Pierce and Foucheux are masterful in their roles as Dev and Sorn. The two imbue the characters with a depth and warmth lacking in the rest of the characters. Pierce and Foucheux do not huff and they do not yell. The two actors have the luxury of playing men who have perspective, who are reflective and are refreshingly self-deprecating. Perhaps telling, they are the only ones who get to play characters who are not artists. The characters don’t feel sorry for themselves; they relax, say their lines and ply their craft.
In an arrogant play, which is peopled with arrogant characters, Dev and Sorn act as a balm that soothes and protects from the rest of the theatrical nonsense that uncomfortably chafes.
The major flaw of the show is that it spends so much time self-consciously telling the audience through asides what the show is about, as if the people sitting in the stalls wouldn’t understand the themes if they aren’t explained.
At one point Conrad shouts that the play is a deconstruction of “The Seagull.” Another time, he says it is a show about trying to create art that changes the world. Later, he posits the play is failing at creating anything new. After all, at this point, is there anything new? At still another point, the four young lovers crouch and rattle off about the tedium of unrequited love.
“It sounds like [a] commercial,” one member of the audience whispered to her companion.
One leaves the show with the sense that all of Posner’s critiques of Chekhov and his ideas about art and the struggle to create would have been better served by restaging “The Seagull,” instead of deconstructing it.
By the time the curtain falls on Conrad and his crew, this reviewer found herself longing for the quiet and subtlety of the earlier play. Longing for a show where the audience isn’t asked to give characters romantic advice; where the audience isn’t expected to laugh at chummy inside jokes about D.C. theater, modern theater and the history of the medium; a play where ideas are picked apart and explored within the context of creative art in Chekhov’s masterful way.
Chekhov, after all, is simply so good he rejects the garish plumage of schtick for the quiet predictability of craft, character and narrative.