There have been many excellent musicals and revivals in Washington's 2012-2013 theater season, but the best new play is Aaron Posner's "Stupid F---ing Bird" at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre.
Of course, Posner has to share some of the acclaim with Anton Chekhov, whose 1896 "The Seagull" was the inspiration for Posner's script. Like Chekhov's original, Posner's play deals with characters who ponder life, love, art, nature, optimism, pessimism, romance and despair.
"Stupid F---ing Bird" works roughly within the plot outlines of "The Seagull," beginning outdoors, on the farm of the aging, ailing doctor Sorn (Rick Foucheux), where a young playwright named Conrad (Brad Koed) presents his new -- and he hopes groundbreaking -- play to a group of guests.
Those guests include: Sorn; Conrad's mother, the noted actress Emma (Kate Eastwood Norris); her lover, the successful writer Doyle (Cody Nickell); a congenial, down-to-earth narrator, Dev (Darius Pierce); and the eternally disheartened young woman he loves, Mash (Kimberly Gilbert), who suffers from a terminal crush on Conrad.
|'Stupid F---ing Bird'|
|» Where: Woolly Mammoth Theatre, 641 D St. NW|
|» When: Through June 23|
|» Info: $35 to $77.50; 202-393-3939; woollymammoth.net|
In Conrad's play, the ingenue Nina (Katie deBuys) is the focus of a central love triangle. Nina adores the dashing Doyle, who flirts with her but keeps running back to Emma. Meanwhile, Conrad adores Nina and cannot live or work without her. The restless, overlapping circles of love strained, tested and unrequited make for continual tension that propels the play forward, giving it an energy that surges beneath the plot.
Posner's script leans heavily on metatheatrical devices and reminders that the actors onstage are just actors onstage and, as such, do only half the business of theater. At one point, Conrad asks the audience how he can win Nina back, and the audience shouts things like, "make her jealous."
But Posner's audacious break through the fourth wall is not just a cute detail. It's one of the essential elements of the play. Conrad's wretched play-within-a-play is an attempt to "find new forms," which was what inspired Chekhov to write as he did, elliptically, through subtext, shunning the stolid melodramas of his day.
Misha Kachman's effective set opens the Woolly Mammoth stage to the back wall, painted pale blue and stenciled with images of Chekhov's face, a constant reminder of the master's presence. A single black branch of a tree looms high above a samovar, another testament to Chekhov's ever-present spirit.
Director Howard Shalwitz's superb cast maximizes the humor in a script that is dedicated to the proposition that life doesn't work. Shalwitz directs crisply and intelligently, using the entire theater to tell the story. He is an excellent addition to this deliciously combustible mix that is less an adaptation of Chekhov by Posner and more an emotionally moving collaboration between the two.