Stupid F***ing Bird Review – Chekov Rewrite Boils Classic Down to Its Essence, Creates Something New

 

The Sideshow Theatre Company opens its 2014-2015 season with the Midwest premiere of Stupid F***ing Bird. This play by Aaron Posner is a comic reinterpretation of Chekov’s The Seagull that will make you laugh, cry, and question everything you thought you knew about life, love, and theatre.

 

(left to right) Norm Woodel, Katy Carolina Collins, Matt Fletcher, Nate Whelden, Stacy Stoltz, Cody Proctor and Nina O’Keefe in Sideshow Theatre Company’s Midwest premiere of STUPID F***ING BIRD by Aaron Posner, sort of adapted from Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, directed by Jonathan L. Green. Photo by Jonathan L. Green

 

The play establishes a Brechtian style early on, with cast members milling about pre-show in full view of the audience and light fixtures visible. The set also functions in this style, with actors making no attempt to hide their rearranging of furniture and walls between scenes. The play opens with Mash, played by Katy Carolina Collins, performing a Beyoncé song on her ukulele, setting the tone for the lighthearted and slightly bizarre production to come. Several more musical interludes take place throughout the play, serving as both transitions and sources of comedy.

 

(left to right) Cody Proctor, Nina O’Keefe and Stacy Stoltz in Sideshow Theatre Company’s Midwest premiere of STUPID F***ING BIRD by Aaron Posner, sort of adapted from Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, directed by Jonathan L. Green. Photo by Jonathan L. Green

 

The scenes that follow introduce us to the rest of the cast, a collection of modernized versions of Chekov’s familiar characters: the self-described “boob” Dev (Matt Fletcher), the bubbly neighbor Nina (Nina O’Keefe), the angsty playwright Con (Nate Whelden), the pretentious writer Trig (Cody Proctor), the indomitable actress Emma (Stacy Stolz) and the endearingly confused doctor Sorn (Norm Woodel).

 

Matt Fletcher, Katy Carolina Collins, Nina O’Keefe, Nate Whelden, Cody Proctor, Stacy Stoltz and Norm Woodel in Sideshow Theatre Company’s Midwest premiere of STUPID F***ING BIRD by Aaron Posner, sort of adapted from Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, directed by Jonathan L. Green. Photo by Jonathan L. Green

 

The original Seagull uses a play-within-a-play to discuss the nature of theatre and art. Stupid F***ing Bird takes a much more direct approach, with Con shattering the fourth wall about twenty minutes into the first act by announcing “Yes, we know we’re in a play!” This unconventional leap into meta-theatrical territory allows the characters to have a larger conversation with the audience about the purpose of theatre while continuing to live their lives onstage.  Audience input is requested at certain points, and the directness of the actor-audience relationship draws audience members more intimately into the characters’ lives.

 

(pictured) Nina O’Keefe (center) and the cast of Sideshow Theatre Company’s Midwest premiere of STUPID F***ING BIRD by Aaron Posner, sort of adapted from Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, directed by Jonathan L. Green. Photo by Jonathan L. Green

 

The acting is strong all around, but Stacy Stolz, Nate Whelden, and Nina O’Keefe are all standouts, perhaps because their characters experience the most intense conflicts. Stolz’ monologue in Act II, loaded with righteous anger at her lover, is believable and intense, and despite her character’s reputation as unlikeable, I still found myself rooting for her. Whelden portrays the play’s tragic hero with a no-holds-barred, energetic passion that makes his final monologue the most powerful moment of the play. O’Keefe’s transformation from a naïve, star-struck young girl in the first act to a broken shell of her past self in the second act is phenomenal.

 

Overall, Stupid F***ing Bird lies solidly between what the play describes as the “old forms” and the “new.” Its honest exploration of Chekov’s essential themes combined with fresh twists strikes a chord worth hearing.

 

Ticket Information

Location: Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago

Dates: Saturday, August 23 – Sunday, September 21, 2014

Curtain Times: Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 3 pm

Tickets$20 - $25.  Tickets are available at www.victorygardens.org, by calling (773) 871-3000 or in person at the Victory Gardens Box Office.

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