CHEKHOV’S “SEAGULL” IS JUST A FK’N BIRD AND CITY LIGHTS THEATRE BRINGS THAT “BIRD” TO STAGE AN INSIG
LOVE AND LAUGHTER AN ACTORS PLAYING ACTORS WHO KNOW THEY ARE ACTING GIVES
‘STUPID FUCKING BIRD’ IT’S FUN EDGE.
Anton Chekhov - who was also a doctor as well as a playwright - wrote his play The Seagull over 118 years ago - and some say it changed what we see on stage today. With that in mind Aaron Posner’s mash up and retake of Chekhov's icon Seagull, STUPID FUCKING BIRD is brilliant, funny and the best metaphor of human theatre behavior. You can say it with a four letter word “fucking great.” SFB is now on stage at San Jose’s City Lights Theatre Company through Oct 15, and is directed by the authentic Krisyen Brandt. The author, Posner, was in the Bay Area fall of 2015 to direct a play at Cal Shakes "Comedy of Errors", so he is not far from the SF Bay Area theatre community. In an interview with ACT Theatre in Seattle, Posner was asked about the title of his play, “It really just started as a joke where people were talking about Chekhov and I talked about how much I loved and hated The Seagull, and…I said, ‘I should write my own adaptation of The Seagull; I should call it ‘Stupid Fucking Bird,’ and everybody laughed, and that’s how the play was born.”
City Lights director Kirsten Brandt gathered a great company to find the fun narcissism that is part of this play - about a play, and the actors in a play. Brandt says “This play is also a meditation on the state of the arts, especially theatre - I find it ironic that at the birth of realism, Chekhov has his characters crying for (new forms). Theatre is an - art form, politically and socially aware.”
The young playwright Con opens the two hour South Bay premiere telling us “the play will begin when someone says START THE FUCKING PLAY” - The night I saw the production the response was instant but on other nights there can be a long pause before someone in the audience “gets it” and yells the F bomb with pride and purpose, and the remarkable Jacob Marker who plays Con encourages the audience to powerhouse the word “fucking”.
Director Brandt combines some very fast paced dialogue and opens one of the scenes for the audience to throw out suggestions. Con - the playwright in the story who asks the audience how he can win over Nina - it's very fun and off the wall “only in San Jose” the mid week crowd yelled out some suggestions that included he strip down naked to win his Nina. Marker is quick and clever with his improv with the crowd and breaking the fourth wall as each character does throughout the play, or is it a play?
“Bird” has as much wordplay as its original version, but this Posner interpretation is full of modern trending topics in theatre, and new media. Con says “I mean, this theatre, this one, where we're doing this show right now, this one is better than most, maybe (who knows anymore), but Christ what they're doing to Shakespeare these days to make him "accessible". Posner keeps the subtext Chekhov at heart with one of its main themes “love, loss, and death.”
In short the story remains the same but set at a sunny lake house of a fading stage star, Emma, played so well by the elegant April Green. Her lover, Trig, played by the splendid Andrew Cooperfauss who is perfectly smug in the role of a prized author. Trig bites the creative spirit of Emma’s son, Con, whose goal is to burn the image of classic theatre and as he persuades the audience that he is only a fictional character.
Con tries to win over his upstaging mom by presenting his charming lead actor, Nina. The talented Sarah Haas plays Nina who is the Seagull, she has a great monologue as she performs the first scene of his new play "A site-specific performance-event" to spice up the fall. An art set that breaks the curtain line to what theatre is.
Con’s second admirer is Mash, always dressed in black “I'm in mourning. For my life. I'm unhappy” and playing her ukulele - performed by the snappy Sharon Shoa who opens her first scene quiping “what are we in a fucken Dickens Novel?” Her song “You're hot, you rot” is set to win over her crush, Con. Her tunes always conquer Dev played by the lovable local favorite Tasi Alabastro who loves Mash and good muffins. Each character breaks the fourth wall to tell their needs and Emma’s brother Dr. Sorn, played eloquently by Stefan Fisher talks to us about where was he? He is in this play you are watching.
The set is clever using a dock at the side of lake and a small stage with eye catching red velvet curtains designed by set designer, Ron Gasparinetti, that include a second act interior of Emma’s kitchen. The lighting that involves moments where pools of light bring each cast member their fourth wall moment is designed by the clever Nick Kumamoto, including his backdrop that changes the mood for each character. You would think you would hear more seagulls in the sound design but they are kept to a minimum with sound designer George Psarra subtext craft of sounds and dramatic bed of music to end the first act. The costumes are seaside, millennial comfortable designed by Alina Bokovikova, and the props by Miranda Whipple are fitting for a lake side deck home cool including some picnic beers, wine and a pie that Dev devours. The back ground music and beat around the CLTC is original music by the stand out James Sugg.
Con arrives on stage to win his Nina back with a sack that contains a dead “fucking bird.” It is classic Chekhovian. Yet I must thank Aaron for bringing this “bird” home and set to build the arch in his play. The dark side of Act two is only in the wings for Con. The downside is that we get that sit com feel at times, but Posner pulls it to brilliance with some biting lines, Con says “I mean, aren't there reasons that protagonists and antagonists and rising action and climaxes and dénouements have been around for thousands of years?”
STUPID FUCKING BIRD is one of the better plays of the season, along with HAND TO GOD at their neighbors stage at SJSC both in the South Bay Area and for a night of seeing actors be actors who know they are acting - is the best. The cast is marvelous and make this a bright version on this Bird for teasing a theatre classic. City Lights Theatre Company has a stunning season ahead; up next is MISS BENNET: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY a holiday play by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon that opens November 16th. Summer 2018 CLTC closes their season with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s IN THE HEIGHTS that opens next summer July 12th. In the meantime - no need to reread “The Seagull”, but still wear a cap in case a bird does fly over.
City City Lights Theatre Company Presents
'STUPID FUCKING BIRD'
By Aaron Posner,
adapted from Anton Chekhov's "The Seagull,"
Directed by Kirsten Brandt
Produced by Kovin Hagan
Must close October 15th
City Lights Stage
529 S 2nd Street
San Jose Ca. 95113
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes, one intermission
CITY LIGHTS THEATER COMPANY CELEBRATES 35 YEARS
For 35 years City Lights TC has been an important part of the South Bay Theatre community presenting important and entertaining work. Congrats to the staff and production team including Artistic Director Lisa Mallette, production manager Ron Gasparinetti, resident Light master Nick Kumamoto, managing director Anne Younan and business manager Amoreena Lucero.
City Lights Theater Company creates provocative live productions that engage, inspire, and challenge audiences and artists alike through innovative concepts, intimate staging, and uncompromising storytelling.
CLTC seeks to serve, enrich, and enlighten through live theater, to explore issues relevant to a broad cross-section of our diverse community, and to make the world a better place. For more information, visit cltc.org.