Port City Playhouse has undertaken the hilarious dark comedy Stupid F#@*ing Bird, by Playwright Aaron Posner. The show is adapted from Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, but with a very modern makeover and two original songs by Composer James Sugg. With themes of love, sex, loss, and betrayal, the show delves into the struggle between past and present, young and old, and tackles the question of the meaning of life.
The simplicity and bareness of the set designed by Jim Hutzler, and lighting design by Marzanne Claiborne is a stark juxtaposition to the deep complexities of the subject matter. The play starts with an empty stage, except for a line of assorted wooden chairs and stools that the actors slowly filter onto the stage to sit on.
The material often has the actors speaking directly to the audience and commenting on the play that they are putting on, and Jeffrey Davis does an excellent job directing this unconventional style. The naturalness in these transitions between the play and “real” life are extremely well-done and the show takes on the feel of an actual conversation. The raw emotion can be painful to watch and there is a certain level of discomfort with the “real”ness of the piece, as the audience at times seems to be imposing on private moments between the characters.
Seven people make up the cast: Dev (Daniel Boos), an awkward and love-sick young man; Conrad (Jason Krage), the budding director in love with his muse and actress; Nina (Madeline Byrd), the young and naïve actress; Emma (Gayle Nichol-Grimes), the aging actress and mother of Conrad; Mash (Alexandre Guyker), the object of Dev’s affection, who is in love with Conrad; Trigorin (Jeff Smith), the successful writer, dating Emma; and Sorn (Bill Fleming), Emma’s brother and uncle of Conrad.
The text is heavy with adult language and sexuality. The f-word is tossed around so often that it starts to lose its impact, but considering the character personalities and subject matter the words are never out of place.
Madeline Byrd’s Nina was hypnotic as she performed Conrad’s play within the play. Posner’s writing is excellent and often subtly poetic, and Nina’s monologue was a beautiful dissection of the true meaning of “being here” and reflects on the structure of traditional art. Byrd is incredibly persuasive and teeters on the edge absurdity, without ever fully falling.
The play-within-the-play is the first taste of the real conflict with the characters. Conrad (Krage) constantly clashes against his mother, Nichol-Grimes’ Emma. Emma is the picture of pride and pomp and, as a successful actress, takes great personal offense to her son’s attack on conventional forms of art. The mother and son dynamic with these two actors is complex and genuine, and their interactions are perfect.
Staying with the theme of heartbreak and longing, the play has multiple love triangles. Dev loves Mash, Mash loves Conrad, Conrad loves Nina, Nina loves Conrad but is tempted by the charm and intellect of Trigorin, and Trigorn loves Emma but is tempted by the youth and beauty of Nina.
The entire play is a wash of self-reflection and pure emotion, and the cast does a wonderful job of maintaining the intensity and their chemistry works well together.
Stupid F#@*ing Bird is an emotional ride and Port City Playhouse has put on a fantastic production of this adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull. The cast clicks together in a natural way and the text is simultaneously crushing and exhilarating. This show is not to be missed!
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Stupid F#@*ing Bird plays through June 25, 2016 at Port City Playhouse-1819 North Quaker Lane, in Alexandria VA. For tickets, purchase them online.