There is no peace in Portland for Anton Chekhov. Last year, his play The Seagull was spoofed to great effect in Portland Center Stage’s production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, and this year we have Stupid F#*@ing Bird, also at PCS.
SFB is “sort of adapted” from The Seagull, according to playwright Aaron Posner, a prolific writer and director. Posner, who grew up in Eugene, now resides in the Washington, D.C. area where this most recent play premiered at Wooly Mammoth Theatre Company in June, 2013. (In these parts, Posner is best known for his adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel Sometimes A Great Notion, which premiered at PCS several years ago.) The play is a Wooly Mammoth production, and features original director Howard Shalwitz and several members of the original cast.
While there are parallels to The Seagull, SFB is another animal entirely. I’ll go with PCS artistic director Chris Coleman’s assessment: he calls it “a diving board, a launching pad, a wild frenzy….” Certainly the play takes inspiration from Chekhov’s play involving young artists and family members and their difficulties with love, art, and clinical depression. But it also explores story, modern life, and theatre in a compelling format.
In addition to a great deal of recreational bitching, and even genuine angst about love, art, and suffering, questions are posed about the evolving play itself. Do we need new forms of theatre? How best can it reach people? Can theatre change the world? This is the stuff lovers of theatre need to be thinking and talking about today.
The play itself is skillfully written and staged. I particularly enjoyed the interesting flow between characters’ minds as they come forward to deliver their thoughts and then fade into the background, where they are seen but not heard.
Meanwhile, romances are coming and going as well, often with hilarious result. Dev (Darius Pierce) loves Mash (Kimberly Gilbert). Mash loves Conrad (Ian Holcomb). Conrad loves Nina (Katie DeBuys). Katie may or may not love Conrad, but she is attracted to Doyle (Cody Nickell), who may or may not love Emma (Kate Eastwood Norris). Songs and audience interaction are cleverly inserted to move the story forward. There is one show-stealing drunken rant, and even a dead, stupid f#*@ing bird!
The play runs on the PCS Main Stage through March 27.