John McKinney’s play is ½ Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, ¼ Woody Allen’s Play It Again Sam and ¼ that of the playwright. Still, it zips along with contemporary spin offering ample whimsy, romance, a dash of darkness, and some clever literary dialogue. It’s not without entertainment value, has an attractive cast, and is likely very marketable.
Dana Watkins and Elizabeth Inghram
Aspiring writer Jeremy (Dana Watkins) lost his beloved wife Kate (Elizabeth Inghram) in a car crash three years ago…or at least her corporeal form. She regularly visits him (first in dreams, later waking) engaging in playful banter and apparently sex. A depressed hermit since her passing, he’s unable to work on his psychological/ fantasy novella and has no inclination to do much of anything else. As long as she’s “there…”
Impelled by good hearted, thoroughly dissipate brother Eddie (Christian Ryan) to get back out in the world, Jeremy joins an acting class. Assigned partner Chrissy (Charlotte Stoiber) is gung-ho about their doing a scene from Anton Chekhov’s Seagull, an author Jeremy abhors. Like many young actresses, she’s always wanted to play the ingénue Nina. Jeremy would be Boris Trigorin, a much older, famous writer with whom Nina becomes entangled. Enter the dandified spectre of Chekhov (Rik Walter) to advise and provoke. (Humphry Bogart – and later Sigmund Freud in the Woody Allen.)
Christian Ryan and Dana Watkins
Later, Kate will parallel Chekhov’s jealous Irina Arkadina, longtime lover of Trigorin. (In Blithe Spirit, dead wife Elvira is pitted against live love interest/wife Ruth.) Jeremy is confused and torn. Things come to a head too dramatically with too little incitement somewhat out of sync with the rest of the play.
Dana Watkins and Rik Walter
Dana Williams’s Jeremy often looks as innocently embarrassed as a Frank Capra character, especially where sexual innuendo is concerned. The playwright seems to have one foot in each of two eras. Williams is, however, all of a piece and sweetly appealing.
As Eddie, Christian Ryan plays indolent hedonist with low key gusto. He’s slick, wryly self aware, and palpably high with every word and move. Able performance, fun to watch.
Director Leslie Kincaid Burby employs the length and breadth of her stage with great naturalism. Playfulness and seduction are completely credible. Crissy’s squealing could be toned down – she’s a bit too adolescent. Her Seagull preparation, however, is priceless. Kate is lovely at the start, but grows increasingly irritating and obviously false as the play progresses. Charm would have made what occurs easier to swallow. Chekhov’s accent may be Hollywood Russian, but it works in context. The actor’s bearing and phrasing are grand.
Christina Giannini’s Costumes for Kate are uniformly awful. A succession of white dresses is old fashioned and unflattering, supposedly erotic apparel looks like a Rockette, her really cheap-looking Russian ensemble appears to feature a bath rug as cape and aluminum foil hat… Contemporary clothes are fine as is Chekhov’s suit.
Scott Aronow’s Scenic Design offers a winning, impressionistic dreamscape reminiscent of Chagall and apartment walls (with alas, little personality) that smoothly revolve between here and the afterlife.
Photos by Arin Sang-urai
Opening: Elizabeth Inghram, Dana Watkins, Charlotte Stoiber
The Chekhov Dreams by John McKinney
Directed by Leslie Kincaid Burby
The Beckett Theater
410 West 42nd Street
Through February 17, 2018
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