BWW Review: Posner's STUPID FUCKING BIRD Launches ACT 1's 30th Season

BWW Review: Posner's STUPID FUCKING BIRD Launches ACT 1's 30th Season

There is a wonderful scene in act two of Aaron Posner's Stupid Fucking Bird - the first production of ACT 1's 2018-19 season - during which actors Tamara Scott and Diego Gomez, playing mother and son, launch into a years-in-the-making confrontation that gives both actors an opportunity to prove their mettle in decidedly theatrical fashion. If only for that one scene in Posner's three-act play, audiences could walk away satisfied, but thanks to Mark Cabus' inspired direction of a particularly notable cast there are far more moments to entertain and, perhaps, to challenge audiences to think about the personal cost of creating art.

BWW Review: Posner's STUPID FUCKING BIRD Launches ACT 1's 30th Season
Tamara Scott and Diego Gomez

Inspired by Anton Chekhov's The Seagull (the play that also prompted Steven Dietz to write The Nina Variations, which Nashville audiences will remember, thanks to an acclaimed production from Verge Theater Company a couple of seasons back), Posner's satirical Stupid Fucking Bird gives a contemporary view of creative process and the price paid by artists to engage their public, to allow their artistic output to be seen outside the insular confines of their own minds. It's a fast-moving, if at times didactic, treatise of the process by which art is made, which often leaves the creator dehumanized and spent, uncertain of what comes next.

Thankfully, Posner - and Chekhov, who provides the road map, as it were - has a clearer view of the evolution of the artist and while Stupid Fucking Bird isn't particularly optimistic in its outlook, it is nonetheless truthful and, no doubt, remarkable. Cabus' staging of the almost-three hour play (which might best be described as a comedy with near tragic overtones, or drama that will make you laugh out loud numerous times) is inventive and clever, making grand use of the Darkhorse Theater to better involve the audiences in the lives of his characters.

Posner's script allows the actors to break - hell, they shatter it more often than not - the fourth wall in order that they might confront audiences, acknowledging they are performing in a work of fiction to elicit credible reactions from the audience to propel the play's actions and, in turn, their performances forward. In fact, the play actually begins when someone in the audiences exhorts the ensemble to "start the fucking play." If only we'd known it was that easy, we'd have employed the phrase countless times over the past 40-some years.

ACT 1's Stupid Fucking Bird is commendable for the performances of its cast of seven and for its compelling consideration of the creative process which is, no matter one's perspective, engrossing and intriguing. It's the ideal choice to launch the theater company's 30th season, presented under the sophomoric banner of "Fucked Up Classics," which seems more apropos for a company in its adolescence rather than one celebrating three decades of theatrical production.

BWW Review: Posner's STUPID FUCKING BIRD Launches ACT 1's 30th Season
Tamara Scott

Stupid Fucking Bird is written for an audience thoroughly immersed in the theater, if not for theater artists themselves, and Posner remains fairly faithful to the source material in his retelling. Act one, for example, is full of so much exposition that it seems overly long, even as the action moves at a briskly watchable pace - or maybe it's because acts two and three are shorter and more to the point - but one can't help but wonder that if Posner were indeed writing for an audience of kindred spirits that he might have excised some of the exposition for brevity's sake (divining that his audiences would have at least passing knowledge of Chekhov's work).

In Posner's modern-day adaptation of The Seagull, the character of Conrad (aka Con or Connie) stands in for Chekhov's Treplev, the playwright destined to create plays that are mildly successful despite his best efforts to create masterpieces that might somehow redefine stageworthy art, to exploit convention by creating something new and altogether wondrous. Con's mother Emma (who stands in for the original Irina Arkadina in Chekhov's original) is an actress of some stature, whose fame has proven too much baggage for her son to carry, leading ultimately to Con's undoing, thanks to Oedipal rage run amok as Emma's starry self-absorption continues unabated.

Gomez convincingly portrays Con with an air of diffidence that belies his efforts to curry his mother's favor by writing what he perceives to be cutting-edge performance pieces that are pale imitations of what has come before. As Emma, Scott creates an authentic portrait of the woman as an artist in danger of becoming a caricature of an actress of a certain age. As the two battle their own outsized egos to connect emotionally on a human level, they instead widen the gap between son and mother. Together, Gomez and Scott create a palpable tension that permeates every scene, forcing the other people in their characters' lives to face their own shortcomings and to deal with their own realities.

Making a return to the Nashville stage after far too lengthy an absence, Scott's performance is breathtakingly nuanced, yet daringly larger than life. And Gomez proves her perfect foil.

Cabus' focused direction is far more egalitarian than we may have suggested thus far: Each character - and, in turn, each actor - is given his or her time in the spotlight, an opportunity for self-expression, a chance to win over the audience in revelatory fashion. Each of the actors rise to the occasion, to be certain, even if Scott and Gomez get the more florid roles and scenes, and every member of the ensemble seems well-suited to their roles. Even as they behave like so many ancillary planets caught in the gravitational pull of Emma's blindingly bright sun, the characters in Posner's play are crafted deferentially, each one unique and important to the story that unfolds.

BWW Review: Posner's STUPID FUCKING BIRD Launches ACT 1's 30th SeasonCabus' ensemble prove equal to that challenge: Katie Bruno is superb as Mash, a goth girl dressed completely in black (she is in mourning for her life, she tells us), who nurses an unhealthy and not-quite-secret devotion to Con, despite his total refusal to recognize her unrequited love for him. Bruno manages to walk a fine line, skirting a cookie-cutter performance to create a character who is totally believable. As Con's best friend Dev, the young man who loves/worships Mash, Lee Daniel is equally impressive and genuinely authentic, pursuing her fervently while in full knowledge of how she feels about his best mate.

Harry Marsh is impressive as Emma's long-suffering brother Dr. Eugene Sorn, whose monologue on aging hits unrelentingly close to home, and he provides a startling counterpoint to the over-dramatic types who surround his more pragmatic character.

As Nina, the young woman who Con sees as his muse (even as she sees herself playing that role to Trigorin, a more experienced, more famous and more accomplished writer whom we first meet as the latest in a line of Emma's paramours), Elena Spradlin effectively captures a newcomer's unbridled zeal to become as successful as the actress she idolizes even while she does all she can to usurp her position. As Nina ambitiously pursues Trigorin, she displays a single-mindedness that leaves Con in her wake, leaving him to founder in despair.

Cabus, himself, plays Trigorin with confidence, stepping into the role after the actor originally cast fell ill just prior to the show's opening date. Self-assured, with an air of easy-going charm, Cabus' Trigorin - admired by those around him for his impressive literary resume - is revealed to have feet of clay, easily manipulated by the machinations of a younger woman of fleeting and capricious charm.

Playing an abbreviated two-weekend run at Darkhorse Theater, you'd be advised to make haste and get to the theater quickly before Stupid Fucking Bird flies the fucking coop. (Yes, we groaned even as we typed that last line - apologies are forthcoming to all concerned.)

Stupid Fucking Bird. A play by Aaron Posner. Directed by Mark Cabus. Presented by ACT 1 at Darkhorse Theatre, 4610 Charlotte Pike, Nashville. Through October 13. For details, go to www.ACT1online.com. Running time: 2 hours, 55 minutes (with two intermissions).

production photos by Eric Ventress

Related Articles View More Nashville Stories   Shows






From This Author Jeffrey Ellis

Before you go...

Like Us On Facebook
Follow Us On Twitter
Follow Us On Instagram
   



  SHARE