By Aaron Posner
Directed by Davis McCallum
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Since its first production in 2013, Aaron Posner’s “Stupid Fu**ing Bird” – “sort of” adapted from Chekhov’s alluded to classic – cannot begin until a willing audience member takes Con’s (Christopher Sears) challenge and yells out, “Start the fu**ing play.” One wonders what would happen if the playwright had summoned enough courage to allow the audience – purportedly an essential member of the “cast” – to end the play with a similar statement. This critic – perhaps in the minority – would have claimed that option just after the first act and certainly would not have waited the overlong 2 hours and 30 minutes it takes for the playwright to wrap up his overwrought case on the state of relationships, romance, love, angst, and the thing we call the theatre.
It is not difficult to understand what Mr. Posner is trying to accomplish in his “Stupid “Fu**ing Bird” hereafter SFB) and there are moments when the play is engaging and proffers some interesting rich and enduring questions like, ‘Is it possible to create new forms of theatre that are passionate, real, and create personal and systemic change?’ Anton Chekhov struggled with that question in many of his plays including “The Seagull” and his query is echoed here in Mr. Posner’s play. Additionally, the playwright introduces the important theme of change.
When Sorn (Dan Daily) asks Con, “Why does [theatre] need to change things? Why do you want to change things,” Con responds: “Rampant stupidity. Inconceivable greed. Legitimized fear-mongering and xenophobia and the global glorification of meanness and indifference to suffering… Selfishness and neediness achieving new heights never before even imagined. Old forms. Old forms of everything, always being called New, but never actually being new. And new technologies and media onslaughts and and and, f**k, whatever… BREAKFAST CEREALS appealing with assassin-like accuracy to every worst impulse human beings have been subterraneanly cultivating for the past ten thousand years. Why do I want to change the world?” This is important but not the first time a playwright has asked this question.
The conversation turns unpleasant as the characters continue to address the need for change and Con takes a jab at commercial theatre and its patrons referring to “the tiny, tepid, clever-y clever-y clever-y little plays that are being produced by terrified theatres just trying to keep ancient Jews and gay men and retired academics and a few random others who did plays in high school trickling in their doors.” It is one thing to call into question the motivation of theatre companies in their choice of product and whether those choices are made solely on economic pressures. It is quite another to question the integrity and support of those who believe in the importance and the future of what we treasure as the theatre. And the reference to the ethnicity and sexual status of those supporters is quite frankly not only offensive but stupid. Assume the expletive.
Whatever goes awry in SFB is not the fault of the splendid cast or the efforts of director Davis McCallum. The seven cast members throw themselves headlong into the conflicts of their characters and their engaging performances drive the plot successfully. It is to their credit they are able to continue to bombard the audience with the same rhetoric for the duration of the play – managing all along to believe the audience is as involved as the playwright assumes they should be.
Christopher Sears’ histrionics work well for his character Conrad (Konstantin, get it?) and his brooding bombastic search for love and meaning. Joey Parsons and Dan Daily – both members of the Pearl’s Resident Acting Company – are splendid as Mash and Eugene Sorn respectively. Ms. Parsons’ Mash is powerful, unpredictable, and appropriately pensive as she puzzles over Con’s lack of interest in her affectations. Mr. Daily gives Sorn a contemplative core of enduring questions about life and work and the meaning inherent in both. The remainder of the ensemble cast also deliver authentic performances in the play, and in the play-within-the-play, and in their playing with the play.
Meta-theatrics become mostly the-same-as-usual in SFB. The energy of the first act dissipates too quickly as the audience discovers that houselights up and cast members traipsing around the theatre with microphones innovative theatre does not make. What might have worked in 2013 seems no longer to entice the audience into freely participating in the “exchange” between cast and audience. SFB does not extricate itself from a pantheon of heteronormative characters and their tiresome and timeless conflicts; the play includes senseless gratuitous nudity and sports an all-white cast. Where is the risk here? The fresh approach to theatre? The innovation?
Incidentally, Stephen Schwartz and Roger O. Hirson championed meta-theatrics in their “Pippin” in 1972 with considerable success. The author of Ecclesiastes (1:9) had it right: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” The search for innovation continues.