You don’t have to know Anton Chekhov’s play The Seagull intimately to enjoy Aaron Posner’s Stupid F---ing Bird, now onstage at Urbanite Theatre, but, oh, yes, a familiarity with the original will certainly enrich your appreciation of this contemporary take on it.
Aaron Posner’s modernization, if you will, of the 1896 play is clever and amusing, with lots of nods to the very concept of theater and what it means today. And it’s perfect for the Urbanite’s compact stage, offering up close and personal interaction with the cast, each of whom at some point has a monologue that speaks directly to the audience (sometimes even asking questions they expect to be answered, so don’t hesitate to respond).
But it is not just smart and knowing and it is far from any type of parody. Posner grasps not just the humor in the absurdity of the Chekhovian characters and their situations here, but the universal, timeless nature of their unfulfilled yearnings, and he makes us feel them deeply even as we may smile at them—and ourselves.
It’s not hard at all to place those characters in the now. Con (Joseph McGranahan) is a young, struggling writer who wants to bring “new forms” to the theater, so he’s composed a “site-specific performance piece” to be presented by the lake on his mother’s property, starring his beloved, would-be actress Nina (Cindy De La Cruz). She’s fond of him, too, until she meets the famed older writer Trigorin (Harry Lipstein), the lover of Con’s vain, successful actress-mother, Emma (Tess Hogan).
Nina is as hopeless over Trigorin as the Goth-ish Mash (Summer Dawn Wallace, who gets to perform a few songs here) is over Con. And then there’s semi-sad sack Dev (Zak Wilson), who’s just as hopeless over Mash. Rounding out the parade of fools is Emma’s brother Sorin (incorporating several characters from The Seagull, played by Dan Higgs), who’s older than everyone else and perhaps a bit wiser, but just as unhappy.
While Posner relies on Chekhov’s original not only for character and plot but for tone, the playwright provides his own distinct flashes of brilliance, too. And director Vincent Carlson-Brown and his cast seem to understand what they’re doing in every aspect; they’re a pleasure to watch, on an almost bare set that nevertheless serves the actors well.
McGranahan is impassioned as Con, Hogan totally believable as a woman who cares for her son but doesn’t know how to mother, De La Cruz lovely and almost heart-breaking as Nina. Wallace goes for the jugular as the sharp-tongued Mash. (“What kind of a God needs a laugh as bad as that?” she demands at one point concerning all of the unrequited love going around.) Wilson is likable as Dev, Higgs enjoyably rueful as Sorin, and Lipstein suitably torn between personal and professional interests as Trigorin.
He also gets to utter lines that seem to directly channel Chekhov, in a 21st-century kind of way: “I love them [people]. All of them…All of you. You’re all so f---ed up in such endlessly fascinating ways…”. That about sums it up.
Stupid F---ing Bird continues through March 13. For tickets call 321-1397 or go to urbanitetheatre.com.