“We need a new kind of theater,” yells Con (Ryan Watson), as he prepares to break the fourth wall — again — and directly harangue the audience about how dead old theater is.
It’s a typical moment in the Bard’s Town Theatre’s production of Aaron Posner’s “Stupid F*#%ing Bird,” a meta theatrical re-imagining of Anton Chekov’s classic “The Seagull.” There is a lot of fourth-wall breaking and a couple moments of audience interaction. The play also reminds you directly that it’s a play, with a very Brechtian sensibility, though it’s a smart-ass Gen-X sort of Brecht. It’s also funny as hell.
The action of the play revolves around Con the playwright; Emma (Carol Dines), his aging actress mother; Nina (Gracie Taylor), his actress/muse/girlfriend; and Trig (Phil Lynch), an aging writer who is dating Con’s mom and challenging him for the affections of Nina.
Unlike Chekov’s original, “Stupid F*#%ing Bird” makes Con the central character rather than Trig. But just like “The Seagull,” there is a rich cast of supporting characters, including Sorn (Sean Childress), a doctor; Mash (Katye Heim), who is obsessed with Con; and Dev (Raanan Hershberg), who is in love with Mash.
Watson commands the most stage time. As Con, the tortured writer, he fervently pleads for theatrical revolution. Watson is a good match for the material. He hits a fever pitch early on, capturing Posner’s frantic post-post-irony in its best sense. With his frequent direct audience addresses, by the end of the play he’s your acerbic friend — the one who always tells jokes about how screwed up the world is, making you laugh, but also making you sad because he’s dead on about what’s so screwed up. It’s the most dynamic and interesting work I’ve seen Watson do.
We never quite worry about him, though, or fear for his sanity or safety. It’s all just a little too meta for us to connect with Con in that more traditional theatrical sense.
As the archetypical crazy actress Nina, Taylor is charming and a lot of fun to watch, especially when she goes gooey eyed over Lynch’s Trig; she’s at her best when lovestruck. But Nina’s transformation in Act Two is deeply undercut by the script. Taylor commits hard to the difficult moments, but like Watson’s Con, we’ve just spent too much time being meta to really feel the last moments of her journey. It fits the play, but I wish we’d gotten to see Taylor really go full “Seagull.”
Childress’ Sorn is a standout. The surface of his affable and easygoing Sorn belies the sadness and regret Sorn hides, which Childress keeps subtle and simmering in classic Chekov style.
Another standout is the discovery that Raanan Hershberg can act. He’s one of my favorite local comedians (and his first comedy album just hit No. 2 on the iTunes comedy charts). His ease and grace on stage shows he’s spent countless hours in the spotlight. The acerbic humor and direct addresses in the script fit in perfectly with his stand-up style. Dev is like the slightly more gentle and hopeful version of the Hershberg we see in his comedy. Don’t worry, he still tells some great jokes. (Note: On April 22 and 23, this role will be played by director Scott Atkinson.)
It’s an enjoyable night, if you don’t might stepping away from the traditional. Hardcore “Seagull” fans might be frustrated or disappointed, but hey, it’s called “Stupid F*#%ing Bird,” so what did you expect?
I do have one serious complaint about this play, but don’t worry, it is appropriately meta: Despite its cheekiness and fourth-wall breaking, nothing really new is happening here, a fact Con even admits in the first act. But between “Bird” and last season’s “Mad Gravity,” a pattern is emerging.
The Bard’s Town is clearly interested in a “new kind of theater.” But it isn’t enough to present plays that ask for a revolution; you have to actually go out and be the change you want to see.
Here’s to hoping they find the revolution they’re looking for.
“Stupid F*#%ing Bird” continues at The Bard’s Town through April 23. All showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $16 in advance, $18 at the door.