THEATER REVIEW: ‘Stupid F**king Bird’ — Chekhov with a twist. Now at Arden Theatre in Philadelphia

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For Digital First Media

It’s a simple set with the title of the show in large letters across the back of the stage. Above the letter “i” in the middle word is a picture of Anton Chekhov, the Russian playwright whose play “The Seagull” is the inspiration for Aaron Posner’s “Stupid F**king Bird.” Though he died more than 100 years ago, I know Chekhov is smiling with approval about Posner’s adaptation.
Chekhov was years ahead of his time in expressing powerful feelings in his people — the women and the men. He predated the absurdist theater of the mid-20th century by some six decades. A brilliant satirist who wrote volumes of short stories and a few amazing plays, Chekhov was only hampered by the censorship of his day. Posner is not, and we are the beneficiaries of these two great minds.
“Bird” opens with Mash (Alex Keiper), lamenting to the poor teacher who loves her, over the fact that life offers nothing for her. It sets the tone for each of the seven characters, who are looking for love, each in his or her own way.

What: “Stupid F**king Bird” by Aaron Posner.
When: Now through Oct. 16.
Where: Arden Theatre, 40 N. 2nd St., Philadelphia.
Tickets: $36-$50
More info.: Call 215-922-1122 or check www.ardentheatre.org.

They are all flawed individuals, and they try to hide their own imperfections, most of which they don’t fully understand themselves.
The “elders” of this tragicomedy (expertly played by Grace Gonglewski and Greg Wood) are siblings. She relishes in her theatrical life and belittles those whose approach to theater — and to life itself — differs from her own. Her brother, a doctor, tries to comprehend how he got so old so fast, without experiencing all he had desired.
But the story is more about the young ones. It is about who loves whom and why. It is about the sadness, the desperation each feels, when that love is not returned. It is about hopes and dashed hopes. And of course, it is about that perennial question — What is love anyway?
They contemplate running away one moment and consider ending it all the next. They try to confront their partners, their lovers, and in Con’s (Aubie Merrylees) case, his mother. They want satisfaction. They want fulfillment. They want to be loved. And sometimes, they just want a hug.
They ask not only what is love, but what is art, what is writing, what is theater, and ultimately, what is life?
“There we are,” says one character at the start of “Bird.” She repeats it. Is it profound or is it comic? At times it is both. We laugh. We cry. We feel the pain of others as we are reminded of the pains we have experienced in our own lives.
And when the play seems like it might become self-conscious, Posner turns the play out to the audience, reminding us that is “just” a play. The actors are real, but they are also playing. And they are very funny.
What a joy it is to see such a thoughtful play that is so entertaining and engaging. Last year, it was one of the 10 most produced plays in the country. Posner is in the process of doing more variations on Chekhov plays. I am excitedly looking forward to them. At the Arden, you have a chance to see the production directed by the writer himself.

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