* * *
It’s become fashionable of late to perform updated versions of the melancholy comedies of Anton Chekhov, which took place in a Czarist Russia that was teetering on the razor’s edge of modernity. Bedlam’s 2014 staging of “The Seagull,” for instance, was done in casually contemporary dress and made use of Anya Reiss’ purposefully colloquial English-language adaptation. “Stupid Fu**ing Bird,” Aaron Posner’s “sort of” adaptation (Mr. Posner’s phrase) of the same play, goes even further: It’s a top-to-bottom postmodern rewrite, complete with nudity, lots and lots of four-letter words and a setting best described as downtownish. Among other things, Mr. Posner has turned the unhappy Masha, who dresses in black because “I’m in mourning for my life,” into Mash, a ukulele-strumming singer-songwriter (“You’re hot, you rot, and then you’re done/So where’s the part of this that’s fun?”) who wears black, lipstick included, because “it’s slimming.”
“Stupid Fu**ing Bird” has been making the regional rounds ever since it was first seen three years ago in Washington, D.C. Now the Pearl Theatre Company, which bills itself as “New York’s only classical resident company,” has given the play its local premiere, and I was—rather to my surprise—impressed. To be sure, the title is offputtingly dumb, and Mr. Posner sticks so closely to Chekhov’s familiar plot that it felt at first as though he were skating on the surface of a beloved masterpiece instead of breaking through the ice and going his own way. But it wasn’t long before I found my way onto his wavelength, and though the Pirandellian play-within-a-play trickery isn’t quite as clever (or up to date) as he seems to think, most of “Stupid Fu**ing Bird” is at once bluntly funny and, like “The Seagull,” unnervingly bleak.
Davis McCallum has given “Stupid Fu**ing Bird” a lively staging that underlines the comedy without undercutting the emotion…
It’s amazing how much damage Ivo van Hove, the most pretentious stage director of our time, can do to a good play when he puts his mind to it. He took a baseball bat to Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge” last fall, and now he’s attacked “The Crucible” with a steamroller, turning Miller’s 1953 history play about the Salem witch trials into a slow-moving study in extreme tedium.
Directorial miscalculations abound, starting with the setting, a two-story-high classroom/prison designed by Jan Versweyveld in whose vast gray expanses the actors roam around ineffectually. The institutional lighting, also by Mr. Versweyveld, flattens out the acting, some of which was dull enough to begin with. Not all of it—Bill Camp, Sophie Okonedo and Brenda Wehle manage to make strong impressions in spite of everything—but Ciarán Hinds and Saoirse Ronan give Johnny-One-Note performances that are as paralyzingly minimal as Philip Glass’ incidental music….
* * *
To read my review of Stupid Fu**ing Bird, go here.
To read my review of The Crucible, go here.