Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

Stupid Fucking Bird
Arden Theatre Company
Review by Rebecca Rendell

Also see Rebecca's review of South Pacific


Grace Gonglewski and
Aubie Merrylees

Photo by Mark Garvin
Anton Chekhov's The Seagull explores the complexity of human relationships, especially the cruelty of love, while simultaneously delving into the nature of theater itself. Aaron Posner’s Stupid Fucking Bird is the rare adaptation that faithfully captures the spirit of the original work while wholly altering both its language and form. Posner's play is at its brilliant best when questions about the purpose of the theater originally posed by Chekhov are addressed directly to the audience (yes, these characters speak directly the audience) or raised by the structure of the play itself. Smart and insightful without being pretentious or, in Posner's own words "clever-y clever-y clever-y," Stupid Fucking Bird is a fun, intelligent, occasionally self-deprecating, and frequently dark work of art.

As with Chekhov's original, the plot of Stupid Fucking Bird sounds like something out of a daytime TV drama. Emma (flawlessly brought to life by the compelling and cringe inducing Grace Gonglewski) is the successful actress and family matriarch whose relationship with her artistic but unsuccessful playwright son Conrad (Aubie Merrylees) walks the line between strained and warped. Things get really bad when Conrad's girlfriend Nina (Cindy De La Cruz) falls for Emma's lover, eminent author Doyle (Karl Miller gives an excellent performance as the philandering literary genius).

While young Conrad agonizes over Nina's wandering eye, Emma's assistant Mash nurses a long-standing unrequited love for Conrad. (Alex Keiper is a bit of a weak link in the ensemble, playing Mash with a monotonously consistent agitation that makes her seem more like a rebellious high school student than a love lorn soul.) Mash's longing for Conrad is a source of consternation to his friend Dev (played with a perfect combination of social awkwardness, insight, and charm by Dan Hodge), who is hopelessly in love with the tormented Mash. At first Emma's brother, Dr. Sorn (Greg Wood), seems to offer detached insight into the heartbreaking chain of emotional frustration, but even his detachment is ultimately revealed to be a sort of unquenchable longing.

Despite all of this romantic intrigue, the real heart and soul of Stupid Fucking Bird is in the anguished monologues about the purpose of love and the discursive dialogues probing the essence of theater and the future of art. Author and director Posner keeps these discussions fast paced, funny, casually insightful, and periodically profound. Together set designer Kris Stone and lighting designer Thom Weaver create a space where the characters move seamlessly between the frustrations of everyday life and the intellectual space of creative insight. Katherine Fritz's deceptively simple costumes are also a great asset to the production.

Even if you have never seen The Seagull or pondered the meaning of performance art, Stupid Fucking Bird will captivate you with its unexpected insights into the human capacity for love, misery, and creative self expression. If you are a lover of Chekhov or a student of the theater it just might blow you away.

Stupid Fucking Bird runs through October 16, 2016, at the Arden Theatre Company's F. Otto Haas Stage on 40 N. 2nd Street, Old City Philadelphia 19106. For tickets call the box office at 215-922-1122 or visit www.ardentheatre.org.

Cast: Emma: Grace Gonglewski
Doyle Trigorin: Karl Miller
Con: Aubie Merrylees
Nina: Cindy De La Cruz
Sorn: Greg Wood
Dev: Dan Hodge
Mash: Alex Keiper

Artistic Team:
Author and Director: Aaron Posner
Set Designer: Kris Stone
Costume Designer: Katherine Fritz
Lighting Designer: Thom Weaver
Sound Designer: Daniel Perelstein
Choreographer: Amy Smith


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