05 December 2015

Stupid Fucking Bird, by Aaron Posner



As someone who studies adaptation, I was excited to see a production of Aaron Posner’s Stupid Fucking Bird, which reworks Chekhov’s The Seagull. Posner’s play regularly draws attention to itself as an adaptation, specifically in the Russian dramatic tradition, and attempts to metatheatrically engage spectators in issues of narrative construction, expectations, and generic norms. In that sense, it is a rather clever play.

Where Stupid Fucking Bird fell short was in the polemic. Perhaps this is Posner’s attempt to emulate the Modern Drama with which Chekhov is associated or perhaps Posner is generally a polemical playwright, but what felt like large chunks of the play involved characters (especially Con) berating the audience or other characters for not understanding his vision of art, the need for new art forms, why we should move beyond existing forms, and so on. For me, the long monologue chunks didn’t engage me, they bored me. Particularly in the monologues about the nature of art, the ideas felt stilted and clichéd, as though written by a first year art student who sees him or herself as leading a revolutionary aesthetic movement that everyone else is to stupid and decadent to appreciate.

On the other hand, the sections of the play moving through dialogue were very good. Dialogue helped develop the characters in a way I felt most of the monologues failed to do, and it was in the dialogue that we saw the wit and humor Posner is capable of.

The production itself—directed by David Beach at the MAC in Morgantown, WV—was very good, with a strong cast giving good performances. To me, the most engaging performance was probably Nicki Davis, playing Dev. Nicki was funny and engaging, and mastered self-deprecating gesture and presentation. The character itself is a good part, and Nicki drew out the character’s fundamental characteristics—a general contentedness, even when anguishing over unrequited love, and an upbeat attitude belied by the suffering of those around him.

Con, the protagonist, was performed by the always excellent Travis Teffner, who gave us a full does of the impetuous and petulant character. Travis spent most of the play either sulking, pacing, or shouting, and was the most directly confrontational with the audience. He demanded answers to his questions, and berated us for expecting the characters to act in certain ways (specifically, the expectation that he, as a character in a Russian play, would shoot himself at a specific point, and that after the show our first reactions would be to check our phones for missed texts).

The other cast members gave strong performances, including David who stepped in to play Sorn because of an emergency for the regular actor. The MAC’s theatre space is moderately nice, but the stage is good. For this show, the stage space was divided between three spaces—the bar on stage right, the platform center, and the table and chairs stage left. The movement of the action between the three spaces gave the sense of flow and development, a sense of shifting and developing action.

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