On the opening night of Chekov’s “The Seagull” in 1896, the playwright left the theater at the end of the night having vowed never to write a play again. It was a positive flop. The actress who played one of the main characters, Nina, had lost her voice, resulting in an awkward delivery that drove Chekov to hide behind the stage for the second half of the play.
Stupid F##king Bird
Thursday at 7:30pm.
Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.
Sunday at 2 p.m.
Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre
$22-$28 for Adults
$10 for Students
Still, the brilliance of the story shone through for some. Chekov’s peer and fellow playwright, Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, convinced him into having the Seagull performed at the Moscow Theater, which had only just opened in 1898. The play was a triumphant success, marking its path through history from that point on.
In 2013, contemporary playwright Aaron Posner premiered his “sort-of adaptation” of “The Seagull,” “Stupid F###ing Bird,” and the play was no flop; it was an instant hit, so much so that it has made its way into this year’s program for the Department of Theater and Drama.
The play explores themes of unrequited love, misdirected passion, romance, self-love and the power of art. “The Seagull,” and “Stupid F###ing Bird,” are different from other love stories.
In “The Seagull,” the main character, Constantine, is a playwright searching for affirmation and relevance. His mother, a famous actress, overshadows him while his father is absent. His girlfriend, Nina, is drifting from him.
In order to compensate for this void, Constantine aims to fulfill both romantic and artistic ambitions.
“Both plays associate romantic ambition or any other kind of ambition as stemming from the same source. And that source is longing for relevance, relevance that is only affirmed in the eyes of the other, the audience, critics, or any one who you project your love on to,” said Daniel Cantor, the director of “Stupid F###ing Bird.” This is a profoundly familiar feeling for any 20-something-year-old searching to define their future.
The play has many layers. The story parallels that of the Seagull, with a young playwright longing for love and acceptance. There is also the play within the play, the one that Conrad is writing. This prompts many meta moments in which the characters address the audience directly regarding the topic of forms of theater: What works and what doesn’t?
“There’s a weird irony in doing that,” Cantor said. “You think, well this is further from reality now so it must be less honest, but in fact the meta-theater makes the play more honest, because the reality is, that we are doing a play! It accepts and acknowledges the core experience, which is human beings coming to a building to watch other human beings perform a play.”
The most important layer to the play, however, is its encompassing relationship with Chekov himself. As a genius in storytelling, all other artists are, in a way, overshadowed by Chekov. This parallels the relationship between Constantine or Conrad and his mother.
“In switching around the form of Chekov, Posner is almost thumbing his nose, and at the same time writing him a love letter. ‘Stupid F###ing Bird’ then, is a giant expression, a similar expression, to what Constantine does in the Seagull,” said Cantor.
In this way, the play represents the best of what Chekov can be, according to Posner.
“American audiences tend to think of Posner as dull, droll, and sort of drawer and he’s not. He’s energized; it’s fun, it’s funny, passionate, contradictory,” Cantor said, “ ‘Stupid F###ing Bird’ brings all of that very vigorously to the surface.”
In this way, the play honors Chekov by reimagining his story and bringing it into a contemporary setting. Since the idea of retelling and recapitulating stories is in itself traditional, Cantor points out, “Stupid F###ing Bird” preserves a classical element.
The play has a cast of seven, with some surprise performances from the crew, and includes movement and dance as well as live music. There seems to be something to appreciate for everyone in this: Chekov lovers, comedy lovers, theatergoers, 18-year-olds searching for angst and curse words, and romantics.
When I asked Cantor what he thought the simplified, main message of the play might be, about love or theater, he said, “Well, I don’t think there is a message. It just asks questions and explores possibilities. It explores contradictions, imperfections and asymmetries.”
Surely, we could all benefit from a similar exploration.