Author Kate Hamill’s adaptation of Sense and Sensibility was one of the best pieces of theater I saw last year – wildly imaginative, yet true to Jane Austen, its complications made clear. That (Bedlam) production was also Directed by Eric Tucker. I can’t imagine what happened between then and now.
Joey Parsons, Kate Hamill
Though there are both original approaches and positive similarities besides furniture on wheels, portions of this staging feature everyone speaking at once while they all tear around the stage like beheaded chickens. Result? Clamorous incomprehension. A farting segment is lowbrow to the extreme. Some of the actors play it straight, others are so over the top one winces at every appearance. How is it a group of inmates took over the asylum while others…? Direction is as uneven as acting. It’s as if the production can’t make up its mind.
Debargo Sanyal’s George is wonderfully narcissistic, but virtually everyone else he embodies is painful to watch (and hear). Brad Heberlee occupies multiple roles like an over-smoked ham. Ryan Quinn plays William Dobbin mercifully straight, but without eliciting much sympathy and otherwise joins Heberlee. Farce only works if you don’t keep telegraphing/winking at the audience.
Kate Hamill, Debargo Sanyal, Zachary Fine, Tom O’ Keefe, Ryan Quinn, Brad Heberlee
On the plus side, Joey Parsons is an appealing and credible Amelia (one wants to shake her naïve shoulders), Tom O’Keefe delivers both serious and outrageous characters with finesse (love the ventriloquist’s dummy!) and Manager (Narrator) Zachary Fine not only leads us through the fourth wall with just the right wry tenor, but becomes Matilda Crawley (in wig and skirt) without resorting to mugging or screeching. Note: I have no issue with (even bearded) men playing women, just men playing women badly.
Early on, author/actor Kate Hamill plays a two-handed scene looking at the audience instead of Amelia, annoyingly taking us out of the action. Hamill then creates a Becky Sharp with less grace, charm or seductive attributes – virtually everything that enabled the character to rise – than insistence. In contrast, down-and-out Becky, is remarkably real. I remember how consistently splendid Hamill was as Marianne in the production of her Austen adaption and can only wonder.
There’s no percentage in retelling a story with which all of you are familiar. The play is periodically entertaining, but chaotic (not freewheeling) in a style I find too often self-defeating.
Tom O’ Keefe, Brad Heberlee, Zachary Fine, Kate Hamill, Joey Parsons, Ryan Quinn, Debargo Sanyal
Alternately placing us in the period’s dark green interiors (Sandra Goldmark – Set) and a circus sideshow/Tivoli Gardens with evocative, striped rows of round lights (Seth Reiser – Design) offers creative context that works especially well with bankruptcy auctions and dark social comment. “This is Vanity Fair and it’s not a moral place,” the Manager reminds us.
Carmel Dean’s original and classic big top music adds apt atmosphere.
Costumes by Valerie Therese Bart are correct and evocative.
Photos by Russ Rowland
Opening: Kate Hamill, Tom O’Keefe
Adapted by Kate Hamill from the novel by William Thackery
Directed by Eric Tucker
The Pearl Theatre Company
555 West 42nd Street
Through May 14, 2017
STUPID FU**KING BIRD is billed as being “sort of” adapted from Chekhov’s The Seagull. “Sort of” is right. If unfamiliar with the original, there’s a synopsis in the program. You can skip it, but there’s amusement in seeing how, in playwright Aaron Posner’s inventive, updated version, the inmates take over the asylum. Don’t take that literally. Though the histrionic Conrad Akardina is, from the start, on the brink of cracking, and who knows into what fresh hell his actress girlfriend Nina finally travels, these are ostensibly regular folks. Well, not regular – they’re artists.
“The play will begin when someone says “Stupid Fucking bird!” declares Conrad (Christopher Sears) who ostensibly authored what we’re about to see. Several audience members respond. (We’re regularly questioned and addressed.) His cast comes through the single door in a stage-long wall that says STUPID FU**KING BIRD. Everyone wears casual contemporary clothing. There are folding chairs.
We’re gathered to see the premiere of a site specific performance event called “Here We Are,” which Conrad takes VERY seriously. Beautiful Nina (Marianna McClellan), for whom he bears tortured love, will act. The young woman says she loves Conrad but there’s no deep attraction.
In attendance are: Mash (Joey Parsons), a ukulele toting nihilist besotted with Conrad; sweet Charlie Brownish Dev (Joe Paulik), Conrad’s best friend, who’s “ridiculously” in love with Mash; the playwright’s imperious actress mother, Emma (Bianca Amato); her famous partner, the writer Doyle Trigorin (Erik Lochtefeld); and her frustrated doctor-brother, Eugene Sorn (Dan Daily). It’s a fevered caucus race that never arrives, rather like Alice in Wonderland.
Marianna McClennan and Christopher Sears
The event=monologue is kind of Dadaist. “This is real,” Nina intones holding up a paper that says REAL. Then, “This is true,” holding up one that says TRUE. (There’s more.) Emma sarcastically heckles, insisting the play is an attack on her (as, she feels, is everything). Conrad stops the show and runs off wounded. Mash is upset, Dev and Eugene rather liked the piece, Emma is incredulous at her son’s oversensitivity, Doyle applies The 100 Years Test: Will anyone care in 100 years?
Nina has had a mad crush on Doyle (through his stories) since she was 12. To say sparks fly between the middle aged, sensitive-chick magnet and this hyper romantic, unblushingly forward young woman, would be minimizing everything that follows. (The actors emanate heat.)
Joey Parsons and Joe Paulik
Muddled, Conrad thinks a primal gesture will appeal to Nina and shoots a seagull she admired, laying it bloodily at her feet. It doesn’t work. You probably remember the young man then raises the gun to himself. “The only thing worse than trying to kill yourself and failing, is having to talk to your mom about it.”
There’s a terrific, lucid rant about the need for new play writing forms, a tirade describing the deplorable state of the world which concludes: all we really care about is having someone to snuggle up to at night, and one about the difference between the act of creating and fame – including the best use of breasts in a metaphor I’ve ever heard – that might constructively be discussed in philosophy 101.
In one left field parenthesis, each character has sex with him/herself and a chair. Thespians wrestle to the ground and chase one another around the theater for possession of a microphone to proclaim what they want. Conrad sincerely asks the audience for advice – answers are inadvertently priceless. Eugene confesses his fatalistic yearning to an empty kitchen. Nina and Emma strip to the waist. (Spoiler alert: one gets fervently laid.) Mash sings fraught, Nellie McKay-like uke songs. Almost everyone lets go with screaming arguments, solitary tantrums, and/or abject pleading.
Marianna McClennan and Erik Lochtefeld
Then…Mash and Dev evolve unexpectedly. Nina chases her dream coming up lost and possibly mad. Emma attacks Doyle with an eloquent, passionate, vicious speech on which she risks everything. Conrad has a play produced – this one! And, well, you probably know what happens to him. The playwright even tells us before we go.
STUPID FU**KING BIRD straddles genres like a hotheaded bull rider. It takes a little time to kick in, time during which you may wonder to what self indulgent, intractable turmoil you’ve bought tickets. At some insidious point, however, there’s a gotcha! moment and you start having a very good time. It could be edited, but take the ride. Much of this sprawling brouhaha is smart, poignant, or astringently funny. Playwright Aaron Posner’s got his mojo on.
Christopher Sears and Bianca Amato
Direction by Davis McCallum is inspired.
As Conrad, Christopher Sears’s manic energy is unremitting. Pain is visceral. He inhabits the role. Marianna McClellan (Nina) exudes sensuality and innocence. She’s catnip. Bianca Amato (Emma) is a Lucretia Borgia character. The sharpness of her speeches could draw blood. Erik Lochtefeld (Doyle) is completely believable in his habitual acceptance of adulation. What passes between him and Nina is palpable.
Sandra Goldmark’s Scenic Design morphs from graphic invective to a platformed kitchen, never losing sight of the theater’s skeleton and all it’s what’s-real implications.
Dan Daily, Joey Parsons, Christopher Sears, Bianca Amato, Erik Lochtefeld, and Marianna McClellan
Photos by Russ Roland
Opening: The Company
STUPID FU**KING BIRD “sort of” adapted from Chekhov’s The Seagull
By Aaron Posner
Directed by Davis McCallum
The Pearl Theatre Company
555 West 42nd Street
Through May 8, 2016