CHELSEA — “So much feeling,” says Sorn, elder statesman in “Stupid [Expletive] Bird,” the deliciously irreverent “sort of adaptation” of Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” now at Apollinaire Theatre Company. Once again, director Danielle Fauteux Jacques has gathered a fearless ensemble that delivers full-throttle performances oozing with emotional fervor. The result is a funny, occasionally thought-provoking evening that would surely give Chekhov a giggle.
Playwright Aaron Posner has written several theatrical adaptations that amplify the heartbeat of other writers’ stories, including “My Name Is Asher Lev,” adapted from Chaim Potok’s “The Chosen” (produced at the Lyric Stage in 2011), and Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” with Teller of Penn & Teller (which bows at the American Repertory Theater next month). With “Stupid [Expletive] Bird,” in performance through April 26 at Chelsea Theater Works, Posner captures Chekhov’s bemusement over the theater world’s posers while also plumbing the depths of romantic frustration among a collection of self-absorbed characters.
What makes this adaptation so much fun is Posner’s unwillingness to stay within a conventional theatrical frame. While he hews closely to Chekhov’s plot structure, Posner flings meta-theatrical comments and anachronistic references with abandon. Just as the plot’s aspiring director-playwright Con (a loose and appealing Diego Buscaglia) says he aches for a new kind of theater, he puts on a hilariously lame “site-specific performance event” starring his blissfully unaware girlfriend Nina (Alana Osborn-Lief). While Con mocks the artificiality of Cirque du Soleil and even the ART’s “The Donkey Show,” he doesn’t hesitate to break the fourth wall to get the play started or to ask the audience for advice on winning back his girlfriend. Later, Posner defies Chekhov’s emotional subtlety with not one, but two clever scenes in which the characters sit in a line and reveal exactly what they’re thinking in a chorus of ridiculous self-pity. It’s a brilliant nod to the oft-used TV sitcom device of a documentary-style interview that allows characters to vent their feelings or offer their side of the story directly to the audience.
Chekhov’s complicated family dynamics are on full display with Con’s mother, the needy actress Emma (Jeanine Frost), unable to hide the irritation her son inspires — “I don’t hate him, but he does bother me,” she admits to her lover, the feckless, but successful writer Trig (Kevin Cirone). Trig matches Emma’s narcissism with a willingness to sacrifice anyone for his art, an easy task when the starry-eyed Nina offers herself to him, leading Con to mope around, complaining about being “thwarted.”
Other lovelorn characters include Mash (Emily Hecht), who plays sad little ditties on the ukulele (lyrics by Posner, music by James Sugg) as she pines for Con; the witty Dev (Brooks Reeves) whose persistent pursuit of Mash finally pays off; and Sorn (Jack Schultz), Emma’s older brother, who longs for his youth.
Posner’s updates occasionally land with the same insincerity of faux hipsters’ attempts at affected irony, and yes, the script could use some judicious trimming, but even with a few misfires, “Stupid [Expletive] Bird” adds up to a slyly potent take on Chekhov. Under the guidance of director Fauteux Jacques, and in the hands of the superb Apollinaire Theatre ensemble, Posner’s adaptation honors the heart of Chekhov while giving his “Seagull” a contemporary makeover.Terry Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.