Arden Theatre Company presents Aaron Posner’s ‘Stupid Fucking Bird’

Posner's Chekhov reboot comes home to roost

The bird may be stupid, but this is one smart play.  Aaron Posner’s Stupid Fucking Bird, a replay/adaptation/riff/reimagining/knockoff of Chekhov’s The Seagull at the Arden Theatre, has finally, after much success all over the country, come home. Posner, one of Arden’s co-founders, left the company years ago and returned to direct his brilliant show with a dream cast.

Grace Gonglewski as Emma and Aubie Merrylees as Con. (Photo by Mark Garvin)

Is there a playwright alive who doesn’t worship at the altar of Chekhov, the great Russian author whose stories and plays reinvented both art forms by inventing (more or less) tragicomedy? Posner captures the essence of Chekhovian drama with two refrains, repeated over and over by his characters: “I’m so, so, so, sorry” and “Don’t judge.”

Chekhov’s play is filled with characters who are playwrights and actors, as is Posner’s. Emma -- played by the superb Grace Gonglewski, for whom Posner wrote the role -- is a grande dame actress, a monstrous ego and cruel mother to Con (Aubie Merrylees, who is astonishingly good in the role). Emma adores Trigorin (Karl Miller), a famous author and unscrupulous lecher. Nina (Cindy De La Cruz), a starstruck teenager, becomes a successful if untalented ingénue gobbled up by Hollywood.

Nina idolizes Trigorin and runs away with him, leaving behind Con, who will pine for her forever. He is also a playwright and turns out to be responsible for the famous Chekhovian gun (the adage is that there’s no point in an author’s bringing a gun onstage if it doesn’t shoot somebody). 

What could be harder than life?

Meanwhile, Mash, played by an endearingly sad Alex Keiper, is deeply in love with Con and, like him, is thwarted (a word that becomes a verbal symphony of meaning). Dan Hodge develops a whole vocabulary of physical awkwardness for his character Dev, who adores Mash. Overseeing all their grief and hijinks is Greg Wood’s Sorn, nuanced, subtle, and elegant. He is Emma’s brother, a physician (as was Chekhov), who wonders if an authentic life—in which we stop acting our emotions rather than feeling them—is possible. 

It is significant that the two non-theatrical characters, Mash and Dev, are the only ones who achieve, if not happiness, then a normal, bearable life. Mash’s clever, plaintive little songs were composed by James Sugg. It’s a joy to have Sugg’s talent back in the theatrical fold. One of the lyrics, “What could be harder than life?” sums up the play.

Posner creates a contemporary world filled with contemporary language, in which people love the wrong people, and struggle against the despair of our catastrophic violence and hatred. Despite tirades against theatre audiences, he makes us laugh out loud at these characters and at ourselves, just as Chekhov does.

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