BWW Review: OSU's STUPID F---ING BIRD Challenges Audiences to Rethink Life, Art in Complex Performance
In many ways, the Ohio State Department of Theatre's latest production, "Stupid F---ing Bird," resembles the stage on which it is presented -- an intimate performance space bordered by jagged-edged support beams, backed by planks of overlapping wooden boards and strewn with overturned paint buckets, plastic sheeting and stacked chairs. Indeed, this "lovingly deconstructed" version of Anton Chekhov's "The Seagull" has the feeling of a work in progress, like something built right before one's very eyes.
"Stupid F---ing Bird" is a play that evolves throughout its two-and-a-half hour runtime. Yet unlike the progress one can easily observe when completing a large-scale carpentry project, the development of Aaron Posner's story cannot be measured by the number of nails hammered into the dock sitting on his character's lakeside property. In fact, it is hard to tell if the writer's tumultuous story has even reached its end when the lights fade out for the last time.
And perhaps this unsettling feeling of not knowing if the story is complete is what makes "Stupid F---ing Bird" so refreshing and thought-provoking.
In an attempt to bring "The Seagull" into the modern era, "Stupid F---ing Bird" takes place in what appears to be the present day and focuses on the complex relationships that bind people together. From the first contentious arguments between aspiring playwright Con (Joe Kopyt) and his actress mother, Emma (Sara Lorraine Perry), to the passion shared between Con's girlfriend, Nina (Linnea Bond), and Emma's lover, the novelist Doyle Trigorin (Blake Edwards), Posner's play delves into the themes of love, life and art through candid dialogue and touches of humor.
But to assume this play relies solely on its soap opera-like plot is a mistake, as the performances from the nine-person cast add a much-needed dimension to the characters the actors portray. Through a mix of lively back-and-forths, thoughtful introspective musings and bombastic expressions of every 20-something's desire to make an impact on the world, "Stupid F---ing Bird" challenges the audience to consider how the themes explored on stage influence how we continue to play the roles we are assigned in everyday life.
Throughout the first act, one begins to understand the unconventionality that underscores Posner's storytelling. Within a few scenes, it becomes clear that when the house lights are brought up, one can expect the fourth wall to be broken. From asking for love advice to sassily chastising audience members on their post-show behavior, "Stupid F---ing Bird" is a play that is entirely self-aware, and at times, startlingly self-criticizing.
In the program note from the dramaturg, Tyrrell Woolbert explains how a lack of knowledge of 19th century Russian drama is not necessarily a detriment when attending this play.
"If you have not already read or seen 'The Seagull,' you can still have much to gain from 'Stupid F---ing Bird' because this play has a different project at its heart: attempting to answer the question of how to get along in life," Woolbert writes.
While unfamiliarity with Chekhov's original work will probably not ruin the experience of connecting with "Stupid F---ing Bird," it is a bit difficult to emotionally connect with the characters that are not as deeply explored in this adaptation. The vivid complexity of characters like Nina and Con steal the show, which makes it hard to fully invest emotionally in the other characters' backstories and story arcs, despite zestful and heartfelt performances from all in the cast. For this reason, even a quick preparatory search for the original play via cellphone on the way to the theater could go a long way.
With unabashed frankness and the courage to try something new, "Stupid F---ing Bird" is a production that will leave its viewers with much to ponder even after the cast's final bows. Perhaps, in this way, the play really does not have a definitive ending.
"Stupid F---ing Bird" is set to be performed in the Roy Bowen Theater in the Drake Performance and Event Center through March 10.
More information regarding directions and parking, ticket sales and show times can be found on the OSU Department of Theatre's website.
OSU is next set to perform "The Coast of Illyria" in the Drake Performance and Event Center's Thurber Theatre from April 14 - 21.
The Drake Performance and Event Center is located at 1849 Cannon Drive on OSU's Columbus campus.