In Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull (1896), the characters wonder how people will think about them in 100 years. Boy, if they only knew! They’ve been revised, relocated, remixed, and, in Aaron Posner’s comic tribute/diatribe, Stupid F--ing Bird, deconstructed.
It’s as if the human ear in the last century got clogged with Velveeta. For us to hear Arkadina and Konstantine and Nina these days, they must morph from doleful passivity to pyrotechnics, from subtle suggestions to attitude, F-bombs, generic jitterbugging, and a relentless attempt to make it “real.”
That said, except for the final scenes when the bills come due, Stupid can be funny, touching, and always refreshing, not for what it does to Chekhov, but how it slams the safe, tried-and-true theater of today.
Konstantine, the fledgling writer in Seagull, is now Con, bug-eyed in love with new forms and aspiring actress Nina. His mother, Emma (née Arkadina) and her lover Doyle Trigorin (now a screenwriter) have made it big time. Mash, a Goth dressed in black “because it’s slimming,” loves Con as much as Dev loves her. Sorn, a composite, is a doctor and owner of the estate. He floats through scenes like a sage ghost.
Stupid is, at the same time, the story of The Seagull, monologues and manic outbursts, musical interludes, and a play written on the spot in front of a live audience — who, it’s implied throughout, are as Chekhovian as they come, dull and stuck and afraid to demand better theater and better lives.
Cygnet’s opening night had uneven performances (as if caught somewhere between an earlier version and one that’s working well). But Ro Boddie’s Con carried the show over all rough spots. In a blue headband and shades, he warmed up the audience as if for a rap session. For the next two-plus hours he gave a secular sermon about living “actually.” His edgy Con — nay, fractal edgy — really hurts and feels mightily in this spellbinding effort.
(The play has a problem, though: Con lives “actually” and loves fully, then contemplates suicide as a result; here and elsewhere, it’s best not to peek beneath the show’s brash surface).
They should call the top of Act Two “The Jacque Wilke Show”: as Mash, she plays ukulele and sings (“What could be harder than life, oh yeah…”), and suffers in ways that combine angst and hilarity.
Andrew Hull’s spare set exposes backstage elements, à la Brecht, and Michael Mizerany’s splashy choreography turns it into a Spring Awakening–like stomp fest, with pounding chairs and precise shakes and twitches.
Other highlights: San Diego favorite Carole Foreman’s a stately/near psychotic Emma; she’s a hoot when her right hand dies a melodramatic death. Walter Murray is excellent as Sorn. His stillness and humble honesty share the author’s message — about loving life, warts and all — in the most genuine manner.
Playing through June 19