Bird is the F-word

Blue Room wrings laughter out of Chekhov

Stupid Fucking Bird, now showing at the Blue Room Thursday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m., through Oct. 3
Tickets:$15-$18 (plus, pay-what-you-can Thursdays)
Blue Room Theatre
139 W. First St.

Being familiar with The Seagull (written in 1895), Anton Chekhov’s classic work of early modern theater, might enhance one’s appreciation of Aaron Posner’s post-modern update/adaptation of that play, titled, prosaically enough, Stupid Fucking Bird. Full disclosure: Never having previously seen or read the Chekhov play, I can’t fully back up that speculative statement, but what I can do is say without reservation that Stupid Fucking Bird is one of the wittiest, smartest pieces of new theater that I’ve seen in quite some time.

The current Blue Room Theatre production of the play, directed by Joyce Henderson, a longtime mover and shaker in the Chico theater community, brings the work to very poignant—and funny—life. That’s quite a feat for a play in which the characters repeatedly spew the F-word and address the audience directly to remind us that we are watching a play—an artificial literary contrivance designed to manipulate and guide our emotional responses by presenting fictitious scenarios that evoke our very real human sympathies.

It takes a talented cast to pull off such a feat, and the Blue Room has assembled a great ensemble to do just that. The first characters we meet are Con (Brandon Hilty), a frustrated playwright, and Mash (Alex Hilsee), a black-clad, ukulele-strumming, quasi-goth songstress whose opening number includes such laugh-inducing lines as, “You’re born, you live, and then you die,” and “Life is disappointing.”

The characters of this play—who continually remind us that it’s a play—are gathered at the summer home of veteran actress Emma (Adriane Westerdahl) to preview her son Con’s latest work, as read by Nina (Clarice Sobon), a curvy debutante draped in a clingy gown (much to Emma’s disapproving disdain). And her presentation is that of a perfectly stilted stage soliloquy: “Here we are. … This is new, this is now … a place where truths can be told. … Aren’t we here?” etc.

Con sums up his play’s post-modern theatrical intent thusly, “We need new kinds of theater! … I mean, fuck, do you have any idea what’s passing itself off as theater these days? Do you ever go? … No, no, I know, you think you should, but do you ever, of your own free will? … I mean, this theater, this one, where we’re doing this show right now, this one is better than most, maybe (who knows anymore), but Christ what they’re doing to Shakespeare these days to make him ‘accessible’… and the tiny, tepid, clevery, clevery, clevery little plays that are being produced by terrified theater companies just trying to keep ancient Jews and gay men and retired academics and a few random others who did plays in high school trickling in their doors …”

Evoking ambivalent self-consciousness and self-deprecating laughter among the audience may be the implicit intent of much of the play, but Posner doesn’t let us off the theatrical hook so easily. By adding Emma’s current lover, the bemused, somewhat caddish fiction writer Doyle “Trig” Trigorin (Jeremy Votava) to the cast of characters viewing and participating in the play, and allowing him and other characters to utter nonironic expressions of love, frustration and regret, the audience is taken beyond ironic amusement and into—or at least close to—the realm of classical theater’s ability to explore and elicit very real sympathetic feelings for the people whom the characters on stage symbolically represent: the audience.

Amber Miller’s ingenious stage design for this “meta-theatrical site-specific performance event” provides both minimalist exterior settings and a very realistic interior kitchen scene, and the juxtaposition of the totally imaginary outdoors with the realist interior nicely illustrates the play’s synthesis of dramatic contrivance and emotional honesty. It might not “make you laugh and make you cry,” but it could very well make you grin and raise a sympathetic eyebrow.