By: Anita W. Harris
The playbill for Stupid F*cking Bird, at The Garage Theatre through April 29, warns that it contains gunshots, fog, herbal cigarettes, adult language and actors. The last item, all seven of them, are the most amazing thing about this production, lifting the play out of its cynicism and enriching our experience with their strong performances.
Based on Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, this play by Aaron Posner offers a thoroughly modern adaptation, centering on Con (Joey Millin), a young playwright who desires to create something new for the stage, partly in reaction to the neglect he feels from his actress mother Emma (Kate Felton). That his mother is in a relationship with famous writer Trig (Paul Knox) complicates matters, and is made worse when Nina (Acacia Fisher), the airy girl Con loves and casts in his play, also falls in love with Trig. Two additional friends, Mash (Nori Tecosky), who loves Con, and Dev (Steven C. Martin), who loves Mash, are added to the mix almost as comic relief amidst all the angst and unrequited love. Emma’s brother Sorn (Allen Sewell), an aging doctor, completes the ensemble, adding a wider, life-affirming perspective.
In the very intimate setting of The Garage Theatre, these seven actors nimbly engage with each other and with us. The set moves from Emma’s garden by a lake to the kitchen of her house, but the play often breaks the fourth-wall boundary with the audience (especially those in the front rows of the U-shaped seating), making us complicit in the characters’ tribulations. We are spoken to directly, especially by Con, rather like in the experimental theatre he creates within the play, compelled to feel the same pain and ask ourselves the same existential questions about art, love, life and death. Because these actors are so believable and engaging, we are willing to go along with this occasionally disconcerting aspect of the play, which seeks to expose our truths.
The play offers a lot to consider about human existence, mostly from the perspective of a younger generation that hasn’t yet found its way. The four younger characters— Con, Nina, Mash and Dev— don’t quite have the experience or footing that the three older characters do, who seem more fully developed. A particularly revealing scene is when these younger four engage in a kind of square dance in which each talks to himself or herself about love, sometimes in unison, before breaking into separate but simultaneous monologues about their own anxieties until uniting again. This little orchestration beautifully conveys their (and our) essential isolation and how all they need or want is the love that somehow eludes them.
Of the older characters, Con’s mother Emma (Felton) turns out to be especially formidable, despite our initial perceptions of her as a shallow actress. It’s perhaps telling that (as she informs us in no uncertain terms) she had to struggle in her career with a young child in tow while Con faces none of the same hardships but is nevertheless overwhelmed by existential angst (rather like the prince in Hamlet, which is referenced a few times).
There is a lot of lightness here, too, especially through geeky Dev (Martin), whose optimism and altruism contrast humorously against Con’s dark self-centeredness and Mash’s Gothic sensibility. Martin as Dev is absolutely perfect, as are, frankly, all the actors in their roles (and Tecosky as Mash also sings prettily). The play challenges each to be a character and a real person, and each performer is utterly up to the task, baring their souls and selves completely. That is certainly a testament to direction by Matthew Anderson with Maribella Magaña, as much as to each actor’s skill.
You’ll want to go see Stupid F*cking Bird for the convincing performances, stay for the complicated yet interestingly told story and emerge more aware of life’s heaviness and how it offers just enough hope to keep us going for one more day.
Stupid F*cking Bird continues at The Garage Theatre, 251 E. 7th Street, through April 29, with performances Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm. Tickets are $15-$20. For tickets and more information, call the box office at (866) 811-4111 or visit thegaragetheatre.org.