Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull may have been misunderstood and poorly received in the late 1800s, but it has since become a touchstone of early modernism. This classic, therefore, makes a perfect framework for Aaron Posner to explore the state of theater and artistic expression in the age of $350 Hamilton tickets and 31 Flavors of Cirque du Soleil. His “soft of” adaptation, Stupid F**king Bird is sly, witty, and insightful. It may not quite be the “new form” longed for by both Chekhov and his leading man, but it is long on originality. It brings such fresh prospective to the Russian masterwork, one can imagine Anton himself chuckling with glee in his seat.
Don’t let the profanity in the title scare you off (or be the reason you purchase tickets). It merely signals the open and casual nature of the script and the play within a play (sometimes within a play). We get our first indication of this when Christopher Sears in the role of Con tells the audience to request that he and the others “Start the f***ing play!” We are also treated to visual queues from Sandra Goldmark’s stripped down set of painted doors on wheels in front of brick walls and exposed lighting that are the background of Acts One and Three. This works beautifully with the seemingly spontaneous songs, loose narration and talk-backs. The compact second Act is tonally different with long introspective speeches set against a full working kitchen. I sense it was supposed to represent a shift towards the characters’ interior life, but between the slower pace, dimmed lighting and endless tinkering with barware, it just dragged the piece down.
Similar to its role model, Bird is populated by a colorful range of diverse characters. This makes the piece a perfect fit for The Pearl Theater, which is home to a rich stew of creative talent including a resident acting company. In the two and a half hour running time, the cast performs comedy, tragedy, musical numbers, improv, performance art and even a pinch of dance. The range of ability is every bit as impressive as that sounds, starting with Mr. Sears as our tortured love-sick protagonist. As his best friend Dev, Joe Paulik is a standout as our narrator in speech and song, accompanied by Joey Parsons’ mopey Mash on ukulele. You will appreciate the interpretation of these roles more if you (re)familiarize yourself with the original script. All the essential elements are left intact and made even more relevant to today’s audience. Helping us to make all the necessary connections, The Pearl provides the audience with a well written synopsis and “Insider” prospective.
Stupid F**king Bird is playing at the Pearl Theater through May 8. For tickets and information visit http://www.pearltheatre.org.