What is it about Chekhov?

By Damaris Montalvo

In the past couple of years, I have seen a fair amount of adaptations of Anton Chekhov’s plays – enough to put them in a table:

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And when so many theatre companies are adapting his works, you’ve got to wonder: why? What is it about Chekhov that’s so important for today’s theatre audiences to experience? What are these adaptations saying about society, about us, about the reality that we live in? And why are they often adaptations instead of straight productions?

Anton_Chekhov_with_bow-tie_sepia_imageIt’s certainly not the plot. I’m by no means a Chekhov expert, but the productions I’ve seen are very unconcerned with plot. Not a lot “happens” in these plays. They’re mostly plays where the characters sit around in a room talking, often loving unrequitedly, and lamenting their reality while longing for the alternative they’d rather be living in.

Now, that description may be greatly oversimplified, but the point is that Chekhov’s work is about the characters themselves – their trials, tribulations, trivialities, and turmoil (#alliteration). And that’s kind of the purpose, I think: to show us how everyday people can be completely cognizant of the discrepancy between desire and reality, and the purposeful choices of some to do something to bridge the gap, versus the choices of others to merely observe and lament the void. They are plays that show action versus inaction, and how choosing to not choose is as much of a decision as committing to a choice. The character of Nina flat-out brings this to the forefront when she asks Trigorin if Shakespeare’s Hamlet was asking “the right question”: whether it should be “to be, or not to be” or “to act, or not to act.”

SFB_0311 copy2In a very real way, Stupid Fucking Bird (SFB) asks us – the audience – to act, to be present, to be another player in this cast. SFB constantly breaks the fourth wall and asserts its meta-theatricality, sometimes in ways we’re used to, like the classic play-within-a-play, but often in ways we’re not used to. For example, having actors address the audience directly is arguably common, but SFB goes beyond the direct address and actually, actually expects you to answer the questions thatare being posed to you. SFB asks you to engage in a real dialogue, to take responsibility for your role as the audience, for you to treat the characters not as “fictitious people” but as people made of flesh and bone, standing right before you, with real, deep feelings.

I’ve often heard that actors don’t “pretend” or “lie,” but that they find the truth within themselves to play a character, to become that character. And I’m 100% certain that in the moment Will Bradley asks us how he can get Nina back, he is asking it as Conrad, not as Will.

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I’ve seen the play four times, and one of my favorite moments was when an audience member suggested that Conrad could get Nina back pretending to be in love with Mash and making Nina jealous. It was my favorite moment because Adam Silver (who’s playing Dev, whose in love with Mash), raised his hand and said, “I’m right here.” I loved that moment because in the intense dialogue that’s happening between Conrad and the audience, it’s easy to forget that Dev is there, or to think that he’s only going to be in the background chuckling like the rest of us. But in that moment, Adam Silver reminded us once again that Dev observes everything and feels everything as well, so he reasserts his existence.

This moment, of course, adds to the humor. And that’s what I think is the real genius behind these adaptations: the comedy. I remember Tina Kronis and Richard Alger once mentioned in a talkback that Chekhov is actually funny, and that many of his works were written as comedies. I feel that sometimes when we read or see a straight rendition of the original, we perceive the bleakness, the loss, the heartache … and not so much the humor. In these adaptations, humor plays an essential role. Impro Theatre also caught on to this, as the two productions I saw were very funny – but not without gravitas or dire consequence.

trig at tableYou know, in a way, Chekhov’s plays aren’t unlike Seinfeld – the incredibly popular TV show with people whose idiosyncrasies and everyday obsessions and trivialities are heightened to great comedic effect. Chekhov’s characters are just as quirky and conflicted as Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer. Because, well … they’re human. They’re real. As Trigorin reminds us, we “are all so fucked up in such endlessly fascinating ways,” that he can’t help but to love us. He can’t help but loving the messy, complex, weird beings that we are.

And he’s right … ‘cause, you know, he’s brilliant.

Applause to the Understudies

By Damaris Montalvo

As the kind of gal who watches the same play multiple times, I’ve got to say I love understudies. I’ve written about the beauty of repeat viewings before, and one of the key reasons I love them is that I get to see a slightly different play every single time. So when an understudy enters the scene, he or she brings with him/her a different kind of energy and a different interpretation of the character that makes things newly exciting. This is actually why I really appreciate that The Antaeus Company double-casts each show, as it allows me to see different hues of the same color.

Futura_artAt Boston Court, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing various understudies come onstage. The first understudy I recall was Julia Silverman, who stood in for Bonita Friedericy as the character of the typography professor in Futura. I remember experiencing Bonita as more emotional and Julia as more stoic, and I enjoyed them both. The emotional version of the Professor allowed me to connect with her passion and love for the written language, for ink, for smudges; the stoic version of the Professor helped me a woman who was such a fierce force to be reckoned with, that The Corporation couldn’t bring her down. And both versions were true to the character.

everythingEarlier this year, I got to see Teya Patt understudy for Kirsten Vangsness in Everything You Touch, which has been one of my favorite shows at Boston Court. I had thought that Kirsten was Jess, so I’ll admit that I had a little trepidation at the thought of anyone else playing Jess. But when I learned that her understudy was Teya, I started feeling more ease. I had seen Teya in Heavier Than, and I knew that one of her strengths is her comedic delivery and timing, so I knew she’d bring that to a character who renders her journey to identity and acceptance with a fair amount of nerdy, self-deprecating hilarity. I learned with Teya’s performance that Jess could, in fact, have a different skin. I loved how Kirsten learned to accept and play with the models/muses/chorus, while Teya was watchfully suspicious of them. I also loved that in a show where fashion is quintessential to the story and the characters, Kirsten and Teya’s outfits in the last scene were unique to them. I enjoyed this seemingly small detail because it would have been easy to have the understudy be exactly the same, but this is how is about fashion as an extension of your identity, and it wouldn’t have been right to make them fit into the same fashion mold for a scene that’s all about self-identity and acceptance. So it was fitting for their outfits to be tailored to each of them.

Recently, I actually got to see an understudy performance for Stupid Fucking Bird, with the entire understudy cast. The only other time I’d seen an understudy performance was with How to Disappear Completely and Never be Found, so it had been a while, and I was greatly looking forward to it. I deeply enjoyed all the subtle differences between each cast.

SFB_Cast_v3I loved how Amy Pietz plays a bitter, biting, attention-seeking Emma, but also I loved Stasha Surdyke’s subtlety, patience, and elegance in the kitchen scene when she convinces Trigorin to stay with her. I loved how Emily Goss enhances Nina’s radiant youthfulness, but I also loved how Zarah Mahler’s maturity contributes to Nina’s seduction of Trigorin. I loved Will Bradley’s tour de force performance that makes me feeling every feeling there is, but I’m also convinced Jeff Nichols is Conrad, with his hipster, artistic angst. I could go on like this about the rest of the cast, but I think you get the point.

Ultimately, I appreciate understudies for their willingness to commit to their role with as much passion and dedication as the main cast. And I love that they support each other, too. When Stasha understudied for Amy last time I saw the play, I noticed that the entire understudy cast was in the audience, supporting her.

I think they all deserve our respect and our support.

NEW Stupid F–king Bird promo

Stupid F–king Bird, extended through August 10th from Boston Court on Vimeo.

Announcing $5 Day

Announcing $5 Day! from Boston Court on Vimeo.

Stupid Fucking Bird: Review Rundown

Great F**king Show! Okay, stop what you’re doing . . . and go get tickets for the production of Stupid Fucking Bird at the Theatre at Boston Court. No, really, unless you’re driving or already reading Chekhov, or kissing the love of your life – you need to pause and go get seats for this co-production from Boston Court and Circle X.

Click here to read the entire review.

la_weekly_logo_265x70Stupid Fucking Bird Is the Best Chekhov Adaptation in Two DecadesStupid Fucking Bird is the most authentic, self-aware, playful, pathos-filled, unassuming and world-wise adaptation of Chekhov I’ve seen since Louis Malle’s 1992 film, Vanya on 42nd Street. How does one have Chekhov speak to 21st-century America? See this production.

Click here to read the entire review.

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CRITIC’S CHOICE Director Michael Michetti leads what may be Charles McNulty’s favorite ensemble of year: The whole profane title of Stupid … Bird which opened last weekend at the Boston Court Performing Arts Center, can’t be printed in a family newspaper. But I can entreat those of you with a love of Anton Chekhov and a taste for theatrical horseplay to rush out and see Aaron Posner’s bright, jocular and not in the least offensive modernization of The Seagull.

Click here to read the entire review.

Chekhov’s The Seagull is given a highly contemporary makeover in Pasadena: The third Chekhov takeoff this year in Los Angeles (could I have missed any?), after The Country House and Vanya & Sonia & Masha & SpikeStupid F—ing Bird may be the most self-consciously post-modern of the trio, with its resolutely present-day argot, deliberate ironic posturing and winking asides to the audience. It tries rather strenuously not to be boring or “classical,” and indeed that effort may be the only tiresome thing about it, as it almost unaccountably captures the timeless humor and complex comprehension of human foibles characteristic of any good adaptation of Chekhov.

Click here to read the entire review.

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Boston Court Scores a Bulls eye With Their West Coast Premiere of STUPID FUCKING BIRDChekhov aficionados open to the humanizing of his high-brow archetypes will delight in playwright Aaron Posner’s smartly written and irreverent take on Anton Chekhov’s classic The Seagull. As briskly directed by Michael Michetti, the first act whizzes by with the prerequisite introductions and conflicting relationships identified, eliciting loads of laughter and unexpected audience interactions.

Click here to read the entire review.

Recommended: Posner’s script is clever, erudite, subversive, often funny, and always entertaining. Director Michael Michetti gives it a brilliant and lovely production, well-acted, inventive and thoughtful. Bradley’s Connie is passionate, despairing, and exuberantly physical, pursuing his ideological rants, and concluding surprisingly that maybe the old forms are still useful, but they need to be done better.

Click here to read the entire review.

cultural weeklyIt’s a Spirited F*ing Chekhov Summer: “Michael Michetti has staged this serious fun, taking enlightened liberties with a gentle hand and very strong cast — from Will Bradley’s intense and lovelorn Conrad (“I tried, I failed, I didn’t fail better, I failed more.”) to Amy Pietz’s arrogant embrace of his indifferent actress mother, Emma Arkadina.”

Click here to read the entire review.

One day I reviewed ‘Stupid F**king Bird.’ I f**king encourage all to go: I f**king declare this a must-see production for all those who love Anton Chekhov but are open to new artistic forms and for all those who can laugh at the pretensions of artists and the ironies of life.

Click here to read the entire review.

theatre times review icon High flying ‘Bird’: Aaron Posner’s new adaptation of The Seagull does more than revive Anton Chekhov’s 1896 Russian classic about longing for love and significance. It reinvigorates theater with energy and intent that bursts through the fourth wall like a dam spilling its guts onto a parched floodplain.

Click here to read the entire review.

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Passion is Still Stupid: In Stupid Fucking Bird Chekhov’s The Seagull speaks to a new age: In the hands of director Michael Michetti, that rings through all the drama, as it plays out in a tight production with a strong and engaging cast. Add to this the extra thrill of Posner’s Thornton Wilder-style dissolving of the fourth wall, including actors stepping into and out of character, and you’re looking at something compelling and genuinely fun.

Click here to read the entire review.

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Michetti’s direction beautifully mashes the discomfort into our faces, helping actors find true moments in the middle of high artifice and orchestrating designers into concert with a fascinating and difficult text.  It’s still art about art, no getting around it; and yes, art could use less of that.  But if you’re going to do it, this is how to embrace it.

Click here to read the entire review.

stagescene_wowEdgy and cutting-edge as you’d expect a Theatre @ Boston Court production to be, Stupid Fucking Bird is also as accessible and entertaining as any production I’ve seen at Pasadena’s premier intimate theater. And it’s not stupid at all. No fucking way.

Click here to read the entire review.

Los Angeles has been treated with three new plays that use Chekhov’s Seagull as the starting out point. [...] Boston Court trumps them all with a wonderfully savvy, petulant blitz through the very bowels of this Chekhov masterpiece.

Click here to read the entire review.

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Stupid F–king Bird: Video Preview

A Preview of Stupid F–king Bird, by Aaron Posner from Boston Court on Vimeo.

Stupid F*cking Bird Production Photos

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