Review: ‘Stupid F**king Bird’ at Maryland Ensemble Theatre

Written by Aaron Posner and “sort of adapted from Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull,” Stupid F**king Bird is a highly imaginative and humorous depiction of the love triangles and life lessons between younger and older actors and artists on vacation at the lake shore. At the heart of the story, playwright Con loves his starring actress Nina, though Nina is falling for a married older author. Meanwhile, Con’s friend Mash reveals she’s loved him for years, with the feeling not reciprocated, while local boy Dev is head over heels in love with Mash.

Caitlyn Joy (Mash) and Jack Evans (Trig). Photo by David Spence.
Caitlyn Joy (Mash) and Jack Evans (Trig). Photo by David Spence.

As a witty modern adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull, Posner frequently has his characters remind the audience they are watching a fictional play. He expresses criticisms and questions about common devices used in modern plays while raising questions about the worth and longevity of art and, more importantly, the artists who create it. Director Gerard Stropnicky has done a fantastic job with some thought-provoking material and has many of the scenes timed to great effect, with help from phenomenal performances from a talented cast.

Caitlin Joy is exceptional as Mash, the every girl with an unrequited love of which she is painfully self-aware. Joy delivers a fantastic performance with her humorous and touching monologue at the top of Act II, and her opening scene with actor Noah Sommer was incredibly sweet, with many hilarious awkward pauses and excellent comedic delivery.

Jeff Keilholtz displays a commanding stage presence as playwright Con. Keilhotlz handles the greatest amount of audience interaction very naturally and powerfully displays emotional breakdowns in Act II and Act III. His performance during his monologue near the end of Act III was heart-wrenching and a little alarming to watch.

As Nina, Devin Gaither creates a very conflicted character as an actress longing for an older married author and insecure of her own talents. Gaither sharply balances the character’s over dramatic tendencies and her seductive powers. She showed a noticeable transition as the character matured from a gushing, star struck young girl to a controlling, strong woman.

Julie Herber as aging actress Emma is delightfully bitchy and delivers some of the best acerbic one-liners in the show. She displays a wonderfully dramatic turn with an extremely raw and visceral monologue in Act II.

Jack Evans gives a convincing performance as author Trigorin. He makes the charming and conflicted character easily sympathetic as he is caught between his passion for Nina and his wife.

Tom Majarov is wonderfully insightful as a doctor and Emma’s brother, Sorn. As the constant outside observer of all the relationships of the younger characters, Majarov performs some poignant and pointed monologues about love and developed an instant rapport with the audience.

Though all the actors display incredible abilities, Noah Sommer, as Dev, unquestionably steals the show. From his adorably awkward pre-show speech, to his hilarious physical antics or exceptional comedic timing, Sommer brought an impressive amount of depth to what could have been a flat character and had the audience easily falling in love with his character and quirky, naïve comedy.

A stand out scene in Act I featured Sommer, Majarov and Keilholtz as the three guys discussing the changing nature and often harsh financial realities of theater, with some fantastic audience interaction and fourth wall breaking.

A prevalent theme in Stupid F**king Birdis the struggle with modern theatrical devices and as a result, many theater forms are frequently referenced or mocked in the show. The actors broke the fourth wall many times throughout the show, to remind the audience that they were observing a play. The various interactions with the audience were well-executed and the remarks about typical theatrical conventions and audience behaviors were extremely funny. A very unique touch was that the actors announced the setting and time of each scene to the audience within the activity of the show, as they were moving scenery or setting props.

 Devin Gaither (Nina). Photo by David Spence.
Devin Gaither (Nina). Photo by David Spence.

Costumes, designed by Jennifer Adams, were modern day outfits with a color palette and design reflecting each character. The change to darker, richer color tones as the characters matured when time passed from Act II to Act III was very noticeable. The Lighting, designed by Giovanni Kavota, evoked natural summer light, especially on the impressive scene projections. Jerry Matheny’s Sound Design was very well-balanced and featured realistic background noises, such as insect and animal noises while the characters are outside by the lake at night.

However the set, designed by Doug Grove and Gerard Stropnicky, steals most of the technical attention in this production. Visually impressive backdrops were digitally projected onto a large, blank set piece in Act I. At Act II, the set piece rotated to reveal an exceptional, fully functioning onstage kitchen. Actors made food and drinks onstage using perishable items from a working refrigerator and audience members were heard exclaiming over the impressively practical, functioning kitchen unit at intermission.

Note: Stupid F**king Bird  features strong language (obviously) and partial nudity. Additionally, if audience members do not want direct interactions with the actors onstage, do not request seats in the front row.

Running Time: Two hours and 45 minutes, with two intermissions- one 15-minute intermission, and one 5-minute intermission.

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Stupid F**king Bird plays through March 6, 2016 at Maryland Ensemble Theatre – 31 West Patrick Street, in Frederick, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 694-4744, or purchase them online.

Note: Stupid F**king Bird features strong language (obviously) and partial nudity. Additionally, if audience members do not want direct interactions with the actors onstage, do not request seats in the front row.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1552.gif


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