By Beki Pineda
STUPID F##KING BIRD. Written by Aaron Posner; directed by Stephen Weitz. Produced by Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (playing at the Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut St.) through April 5. Tickets available at www.betc.org.
The play starts after a cast member tells the audience it will start when someone requests that “they start the f##king play,” and it ends when Con the Tormented screams, “Stop the f##king play!!” In between, the seven characters spill their guts, live through four years of grief, change emotional partners multiple times, and philosophize about everything from the death of theater to the pain of aging to the nature of the male ego. Love of the unrequited type gets a thorough workout.
Con loves Nina, who falls in love with Trig because he’s good-looking and successful and is Emma’s lover. Dev is in love with Mash, who is in love with Con. Emma is in love with Trig and the spotlight. Trig is comfortable with Emma, infatuated with Nina, and in love with love. And Sorn just wants a hug. Did I forget anyone? As gloomy as all of this sounds, my overwhelming memory of the evening I spent with this group was that I laughed a lot and enjoyed their company.
Playwright Aaron Posner has taken the skeletal remains of Anton Chekhov’s classic play “The Seagull,” cut away the parts that don’t pertain to life today, and reworked it for a modern sensibility. As Chekhov himself wrote, the play has “a great deal of conversation about literature, little action, tons of love.” Posner kept those basics in place and had a lot of fun putting his own mark on it.
With an ensemble cast that takes the high points the script gives them and soars, the adjectives simply fluctuate between “very very good” and “brilliant.” Luke Sorge, playing the emotionally tormented Con (Chekhov’s Constantin), pulls out all the stops. His recent visit to “Other Desert Cities” was only a warmup for this journey. Audiences have come to expect great performances from Diana Dresser, and she does not disappoint as Emma (Chekhov’s Irina), the fading diva. But there is nothing fading about this Emma. A scene in which she fights to retain her life with Trig (Chekhov’s Trigorin) would break the coldest heart. Unfortunately it doesn’t really help her with Trig, played by Brian Shea. His conflicted emotions live in his body language, and it’s soon clear that no matter how passionately Emma pleads, his weakness for Nina is overpowering. Rebecca Remaly—a redheaded Drew Barrymore—as Mash (Chekhov’s Masha) has a sweet singing voice and a defeated, petulant air. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that Nina (Chekhov’s Nina—what happened there?!), as played by Jaimie Rebekah Morgan, is a blonde bubblehead. But both Jaimie and Nina will surprise you with their joint passion and depth. The smaller but no less important roles of Dev (Chekhov’s Medvedenko) and Sorn (Chekhov’s Sorin) are given life by Ian Andersen and Bob Buckley.
Reviewing the basic plot of the Chekhov play will enhance your enjoyment of the subtext and variations of this version, but it certainly isn’t necessary. There is one moment in Act I when having somebody in the audience who knows a little something about the original will assist Con as he asks for help in choosing a gift for Nina.
The fourth wall is broken relentlessly, but never in an in-your-face kind of way; it’s more like “I need your help” or “I’m just checking to see if you’re still with me.” As always with BETC, the technical aspects of the production succeed in every way, from a flexible set that goes from inside to outside easily, and lighting that changes from the ludicrous to the sublime; to costumes appropriate and pretty, and sound effects subtly supporting. The original music written by James Sugg is melodic and sweetly sarcastic.
As a company that advertises “Wonderful stories. Wonderfully told,” BETC could easily be accused of boasting. It’s not a boast when it’s the truth.
Wow factor: 9