Wednesday, April 20, 2016

"Stupid Fucking Bird" - more Chekhov, less funny

Adam Standley in Stupid Fucking Bird (Chris Bennion)

Stupid Fucking Bird
ACT Theatre
Through May 8, 2016

When you see Stupid Fucking Bird at ACT Theatre, you’re going to see a play that hews very closely to its source material, Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull. It’s a modern adaptation and has some amazing one-liners in it, but it very closely mimics the scene line-up of the Chekhov play. So, what you’ll see is almost a modern translation.

I thought it was a “take-off of” and not a “modern adaptation of” the original. That distinction is important. What the modern take by Aaron Posner does reveal more clearly is that a life is pretty essentially wasted if all one does is pine for a lost love, whether the love was ever requited or not.
 
If you know The Seagull, you know that everyone is in love with someone else in a long chain of six. Some of those characters handle their unanswered love with reasonable resolve and others just pine for what can’t be and not only never get over it, but also never do anything else with their lives. Stupid Fucking Bird helps identify that more clearly perhaps than The Seagull, since by putting these characters in a modern world, we more easily recognize that they’re not busy doing anything else of note.

The production here is solidly directed in the round by Jessica Kubzansky, and has a cast of veterans all well-suited to their roles. However, like most Chekhov productions, these actors take their characters too seriously, which may be a directing flaw, perhaps. I believe that fundamentally, they are to be laughed “at,” because they are so obsessed with what they cannot have. Some of the humor is lost if we can’t see that. That happens often with The Seagull, as well.

Some of the humor is supposed to come from breaking the “fourth wall” to address the audience. It turns out that isn’t that funny, though it adds a bit of texture, and even the audience has a chance to add humor. The night I saw the show, one character asked the audience for advice and a member said, “Edit the script.” That was great!

I very much enjoyed the wry character of Mash, played by Keiko Green, especially when she played a banjo and sang funny, off-handed, sad songs about how fucked up life is. Her character is one that manages to move on from the unrequited love to a life that is worth living.

Adam Standley, as the suicide-threatening Con, does give his character a bit too much angst in a not-funny way, but is generally completely watchable no matter what his role. So I enjoyed him, even as I wished that the role could have been positioned as a spoiled brat who doesn’t get his way, which is where a lot more humor might have been brought in.

I may well have enjoyed the entire production more if I knew I was going to be watching The Seagull, so in order for you to have a better experience, I offer that information to correctly set your expectations and perhaps improve your enjoyment of the play. There is a lot of very, very smart dialogue to enjoy, also.

The other members of the cast are Suzanne Bouchard, MJ Sieber, Jasmine Jean Sim, G. Valmont Thomas and Connor Toms. Green, Sim, Thomas and Toms are new members of a “core” acting company (of seven) that ACT put together this year. They’ll be cast in all sorts of productions there and that gives those who like getting to know actors an opportunity to see their variety of talents. Ironically, that is what the “repertory” in Seattle Repertory Theatre used to stand for.

For more information, call 206-292-7676 or go to www.acttheatre.org