BWW Review: STUPID FU***ING BIRD Takes Glorious Flight at Dobama
The lights dim. Joseph Lyle Dunn, who we later learn is portraying Conrad, the play's protagonist, comes stage center and says, "The play will begin when someone says: 'Start the F***ing play.'" As if on cue, a member of the audience yells, "Start the F***ing play," and it does!
Yes, "Stupid F***ing Bird" is that kind of theatrical experience. It's funny. It's tragic. And, it gets a marvelous production under the creative mind of Dobama's Artistic Director, Nathan Motta, at Cleveland's off-Broadway theatre, which is now starting its 60th season.
Of the play, Motta says, "Stupid F***ing pushes the envelope, takes risks, asks hard questions of its audience, and yet, it is chook full of love and humanity. These are the things that motivated Don Bianchi to start a theatre in 1959 as evident in his lasting words, 'Take the risk. We're all in this together.'"
To fully understand Aaron Posner's brilliant play, with the subtitle: SORT OF ADAPTED FROM "THE SEAGULL" BY Anton Chekhov, the author's stage notes need to be examined. The instructions on performances states, "THE ACTING: Should be very, very good: Emotionally grounded, deeply passionate, intention-driven and relatively realistic. Also funny. Pretty much like a really good Chekhov play. Only different... Everyone is grappling for the best way to express themselves all the time, to give words to their frustrations, and hopes, and rampant emotions. Therefore, words often come tumbling out before the thoughts are entirely formed."
Posner continues, "The characters are real people. They are also characters in a play. They should all be fully invested in the reality of their lives in the play and the stakes are high and deadly serious. At the same-time they know that they are in a play, that there is an audience out there."
At Dobama's opening night, during the pre-curtain speech, a member of the audience asked the director if a knowledge of "The Seagull" is necessary for an understanding of the play. Motta indicated that it wasn't completely necessary. (Note: I would add. It isn't necessary, but it helps to understand the genius of Posner's creative approach to make Chekov modern and relative.)
What's it all about? "Kind, hopeful Dev suffers from an unrequited love for Mash, who composes cleverly despairing songs on the ukulele. Mash is desperately in love with Con, a passionate playwright who is deeply in love with Nina, his beautiful, vibrant muse, and childhood friend. Nina seems to love him back, until she becomes entranced by Trig, a literary star who happens to be dating Con's mother Emma, a successful actress who is hopelessly commercial, in the eyes of her son. With a dead bird, a gun, and a little help from the audience, Con might be able to win Nina's heart again... or at least feed his own tentative, morbid creativity," but, don't bet on it.
Sound like a 19th century melodrama? Yes. It was one of Chekov's many plays meant to show the frivolous nature of the Russian upper class. But, in the ingenious adaptation writing of Posner, it works as a modern angst tale.
The play ends as it began with a startling device. As stated in the script: Conrad [Pulling out a gun] "I shoot myself." [He puts the gun to his head. Leaves it there a beat. Poised to pull the trigger. Tense silence. Then he suddenly aims it at a light above stage, fires, the light explodes. The cast is freaked, screams, maybe.] "I F***ing shoot myself!" [The stage is tense...] "Or not." [Quick beat] "Or..." [No one moves. They are bracing for a shot. Beat. Conrad turns to the audience]. "Stop the F***ing play!" [Blackout]
The cast: Joseph Lyle Dunn (Conrad), Sara Young (Mash), Laura Perrotta (Emma), Michael Regnier (Dr. Eugene Sorn), JP Peralta (Dev), Sarah Durn (Nina) and Josh Innerst (Doyle Trigorin) each in their own way, are excellent, creating clear "real" people, nicely texturing their performances and grabbing and holding the audience's attention. Well done!
The creative set design by Laura Carlson Tarantowski, lighting by Wes Calkin, projection design by T. Paul Lowry, sound design by Richard Ingraham, costumes by Tesia Dugan Benson, props by Venessa Cook and choreography by Casey Venema all greatly enhance the show.
Capsule judgement: As a person present at the very start of Dobama, I would say that Donald Bianchi, the theater's founder, would approve and be delighted that "his" theater is still fulfilling "his" dream by producing the wondrous likes of "Stupid F***ing Bird." Kudos to the director, technicians and actors for launching this glorious flight.
The must-see "Stupid F***ing Bird" runs through September 29, 2019 at Dobama, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights. Call 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org for tickets.
Next up at Dobama is" Wakey, Wakey," Will Eno's new play which features a guy named Guy-a man who knows, like all of us on some level, that he is about to die. (October 18-Novemer 10, 2019).