The newest play appearing at the Cygnet Theatre in Old Town, “Stupid F***ing Bird” written by Aaron Posner and directed by Rob Lutfy, will leave you drained as you exit the theatre. Using as inspiration an Anton Chekhov play, “The Seagull”, which helped introduce modernism and realism to the stage, Posner’s play takes us through the multitude of relationships involving the seven central characters and along the way leads us through a variety of discussions about love, family, art, realism and what we present as our true selves to the outside world. It should be noted that the play holds nothing back in terms of language, instead painting a somewhat true picture of the lives of individuals as they struggle through life.
The program, handed out as you enter the theatre, comes with a “Who Loves Who” diagram to make sure you can tell the “players with a program” as they enter. As a huge portrait of Anton Chekhov looks down on the stage, the central character, Con, played by Bo Boddie, greets audience members and introduces us to what we are about to see. He is passionate, full of angst and anger and wants to change the face of theatre as we know it. He feels the theatre needs new plays, new forms, plays that cause change. Con has written a play that features his girlfriend, Nina, played by Rachel Esther Tate. Nina appears to love Con, wants to be the perfect actress for the play and is not afraid to show her emotions. Con plans on showing the play first to friends and family. Next we meet Masha, played by Jacque Wilke, and her ever present ukulele. Masha is “dark”, both in costume and mood, mainly because she is in love with Con. Next in is Con’s best friend, Dev, played by Brian Rickel, who is in love with Masha.
Dev is a bit goofy, quick to make light of most things around him, but definitely over the top in love with Masha, but Masha at this point in time is not in love with Dev. Next in comes Con’s mother, Emma, played by Karole Foreman, who is condescending, does not appear to want to be here and definitely thinks Con’s play is doomed to failure. She tries to put on a good face about his efforts, but is clearly not impressed. Emma has brought her lover with her, an award winning writer, Trigorin, played by Francis Gercke. Trig is a bit wishy-washy, somewhat oblivious to what is going on around him emotionally and will soon become involved in a relationship with Con’s girlfriend Nina. The final cast member we meet is Uncle Sorn, Emma’s brother, played by Walter Murray. Uncle Sorn is a doctor, just seems to want to keep things on an even keel and always tries to find something good to say. We will finally see Uncle Sorn reveal his “true self” and “true feelings” toward the end of the play, which is set 4 years later, and find out he “just wants to be hugged”.
This is a powerful, no-holds-barred play. It is not for the feint of heart. As Con’s play for the family falls flat, emotions take off and never stop. At one point, Con asks the audience for help with his relationship with Nina. He has audience members shout out a response to “how to get her to love me”. This interaction with the audience happens throughout the play with other characters as well. Later, an impromptu dance routine by all of the cast asks, “Do you think love is logical?”. As in Chekhov’s play, the relationship between mother and son is complex and at times volatile and everyone in the play finds themselves in love with the wrong person.
The abstractness of the set in Act I changes in Act II to a more traditional set, a kitchen, for most of the remainder of the play. But the traditional setting does not stop the emotional changes running through each of the people in the play and the off stage violence that ends Act I that each must deal with. Through this the questions still surround this group – “Are we all performing in our own way every day?, Do we fool people?, Do people really know what we feel?” Even as Con tries to bring some closure at the end of the play, questions still abound and relationships are still fragile.
This was an extremely gut wrenching play, at times showing a little humor. The actors and actresses selected could not have been better cast for their parts. Bo Biddle was especially powerful as the emotionally lost Con and Karole Foreman was excellent as Con’s “I think I love you” mother. Playwright Aaron Posner is a Helen Hayes and Barrymore Award-winning director and playwright. He is the founder and former Artistic Director of Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre and has directed at major regional theatres like the Folger, Seattle Rep., the Alliance and Shakespeare Santa Cruz. Director Rob Lutfy is the Associate Artistic Director at Cygnet Theatre and has directed numerous plays at Cygnet.
“Stupid F***ing Bird” runs through June 19th. Tickets can be purchased at www.cygnettheatre.com or call 619-337-1525.