SF Playhouse has been producing some of the most interesting, entertaining theater around. Continuing this trend, it offers Aaron Posner’s Stupid Fucking Bird, which is a postmodern take of Chekhov’s classic, The Seagull. I had the pleasure of seeing it in previews earlier this week. It opens tomorrow night.
The seven-member cast is first-rate, featuring talented, versatile Bay Area actors, many of whom I’ve seen at Aurora or on the Ashby Stage. Charles Shaw Robinson is Sorn, the quiet doctor, an integral part of the family, who is virtually invisible to all the emotionally wrought characters who surround him.
Carrie Paff never disappoints, and this time she gets to play a narcissistic film actress who loves her grown son, Con, even if she has an odd way of showing it.
The peculiarly named Mash is played by El Beh, whom you may have seen in the Shotgun Players’ recent production of Our Town, where she portrayed Emily—quite a different role, to be sure.
Although the story elements are similar to Chekhov’s play, the format is distinctly fresh, with actors occasionally stepping out of character to address the audience, not in a Frank Underwood aside à la House of Cards, but in a full-fledged solicitation to participate. At one point Con faces the audience and appeals for ideas of how he can win his mother’s love. Later, Magill, the actor playing Con, refers to the likelihood that many of us stole a second look at his bio because his head shot shows him sans beard. (See below.)
But breaking down the fourth wall is not merely a gimmick—it helps to tell the story in a refreshing way. One could almost say it’s cheating on the playwright’s part because enabling the characters to speak directly to the audience allows them to cover back story in a way that couldn’t be done in a traditional play. But Posner does not rely on this method too heavily, and it’s interwoven artfully with dialogue and action.
And Posner stayed true to Chekhov’s principle that once a gun is introduced onstage, it must go off. But I don’t want to give away any crucial plot points…