by Beatrice Williams-Rude
The Pearl Theatre is the jewel in Theatre Row’s crown. Whether presenting classics, like Shakespeare and Shaw; insightful translations such as Figaro (Beaumarchais); or entirely new works such as Wittenberg, by David Davalos or And Away We Go, by Terrence McNally, everything this company does is tastefully and intelligently presented.
Which brings us to its latest offering, Stupid Fu**ing Bird, a work impossible to categore. The playwright, Aaron Posner, calls it “sort of “ an adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s masterwork The Seagull, and it “sort of” is.
This work is a study of unrequited love: Dev (Joe Paulik) loves Mash (Joey Parsons), who loves Conrad (Christopher Sears), who loves Nina (Marianna McClellan), who no longer loves him because she’s been beguiled by Trigorin (Erik Lochtefeld), the boyfriend of Conrad’s mother, Emma (Bianca Amato). There is also the unrequited love between mother and son; Conrad loves Emma, but she doesn’t reciprocate. Trigorin, loved by both Nina and Emma, really loves only himself—the only fully requited love.
Chekhov’s characters, whose names have been only slightly altered, and his chain of events, are intact. What’s new is the time and setting: here and now. There are clever, relevant lines about the state of the theater—how a cast of eight is now considered an extravaganza, and a denunciation of making Shakespeare “accessible”—as well as references to the state of politics here and the refugee situation in Europe. The language is contemporary and colloquial. Expletives are not deleted.
However, the emptiness, pointlessness, monotony and, in large measure, lovelessness of many people’s lives—so central to Chekhov’s work—is manifested here as well.
The performers, in addition to interacting with one another, address the audience. Soliloquies and even queries are aimed at the audience as if its members were a part of the cast.
Conrad, dazzlingly portrayed by Christopher Sears, emits enough electricity to light up all of Manhattan. Sorin, Emma’s doctor brother, who provides warmth, solace and humor, is delightfully played by always dependable Dan Daily. And yes, even as Chekhov described this as a comedy, there are laughs. Not guffaws, but chuckles and smiles of recognition.
Versatile Joey Parsons also finds humor, in her hilarious portrayal of Mash. And Nina, the seagull, is winningly played by Marianna McClellan.
Bianca Amato lights up the sky as Emma Arkadina, the famous actress. Playwright Posner has added to the character, making her far more understandable. (Chekhov would approve!)
The Seagull ends abruptly with an off-stage suicide. But Posner has provided an elegant epilogue: he tells us what happens to the characters after the curtain falls.
Stupid Fu**ing Bird has been skillfully and effectively directed by Davis McCallum, who’s brought all the innovation of the concept to fruition. The one weakness of this this presentation is Trigorin who should be magnetic and irresistible but comes off as a cypher. This was either a case of miscasting or the actor was phoning in his performance at the March 26 matinee. One can imagine Frank Langella in the role.
This is a stunning production. It opens with a blast of light and sound making the “when” and “where” obvious. Credit to Lighting and sound designers Mike Inwood and Mikhail Fiksel. The sound is maintained at a level that’s fine for the ears and, given the periodic blasts, that is no mean accomplishment. The altogether utilitarian set is by Sandra Goldmark. This is a wonderfully well integrated production.
Stupid Fu**ing Bird. Through May 8 at The Pearl Theatre (555 West 42nd Street between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues) Run time: two hours, 15 minutes, with one 15 minute intermission. Tickets: 212-563-9261; www.pearltheatre.org
Photos: Russ Rowland