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A Terrific Production of Stupid Fucking Bird
San Francisco Playhouse

Also see Richard's reviews of Tartuffe and Stories by Alice Munro and Jeanie's review of M. Butterfly

Joseph Estlack, El Beh, Charles Shaw Robinson, Carrie Paff and Johnny Moreno
San Francisco Playhouse is presenting a magnificent production of a version of Chekhov's The Seagull called Stupid Fucking Bird. Of Chekhov's plays, The Seagull is among the most produced and adapted, and is by far the most sophisticated and dramatically interesting. I have never seen a more brash and self-referential take on this play. This new adaptation is from Aaron Posner and features one of the best casts you will likely see anywhere in the Bay Area.

Aaron Posner sets the play in the present. He plunges the audience into a county house setting where unreciprocated desire is drowned in equal parts alcohol and mockery. Here, in true Chekhovian fashion, playwrights, doctors, and novelist bare their souls as they search desperately for the truth of love and art.

The basic Chekhovian framework is there but the playwright takes the context and lifts it into a modern play-within-a-play through current feelings and scene after scene of mockingly uproarious conversations on everything from modern theatre to the nature of attraction between old men and younger women. They make fun of the theatre while never forgetting that it includes them. In the second act Posner breaks the fourth wall and the actors bare their souls to the audience.

Director Susi Damilano has assembled a brilliant cast and everyone on stage intertwines exquisitely and painfully. Adam Magill has the showiest role as the unkempt and muddled Con, a failed playwright. He is a powerhouse of sincere passion and self-deprecation.

Carrie Paff plays the stage and screen star Emma. She is superb in the role of a majestic and self-centered actress. Johnny Moreno beautifully plays the seeming legendary genius writer Trig with cool observant acting chops. Martha Brigham gives a delightful performance of naive Nina, a wannabe actress. Joseph Estlack plays Dev, Con's longsuffering friend and counterpoint, the straight role, to perfection. His comments, asides, and facial expressions are perfect and winning.

El Beh is wonderful as Mash. She manifests the despair at Mash's unrequited love for Con, dressed in black with delicious deadpan sarcasm. She plays the ukulele and sings songs by James Sugg, who wrote the music for this production. As the inevitable Chekhovian doctor, Charles Shaw Robinson is charismatic with his identification as a bemused outsider oblivious to the audience. His heartrending speech in the second act provides the connection to all of these people on stage.

Bill English's versatile set echoes the play-within-a-play with a design that is taken apart and reconfigured by the performers, going from outdoors to interior. The costumes by Abra Berman are playfully unmistakable. Director Susi Damilano likes the explicit approach and it most certainly works for this adaption. To put is plainly, Stupid Fucking Bird is pretty fucking brilliant.

Stupid Fucking Bird runs through May 2nd, 2015, at the San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street, San Francisco. For tickets 415-677-9596 or online at Coming up next is the San Francisco Playhouse Sandbox Series opening on April 2nd and running through April 25th at the Tides Theatre, 533 Sutter Street, San Francisco.

Photo: Jessica Palopoli

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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