Stupid Fucking Bird: Does it give Chekhov wings or the raspberry? Let’s ask Dave Horak

Cast of Stupid Fucking Bird, Edmonton Actors Theatre. Photo by Mat Simpson.

Cast of Stupid Fucking Bird, Edmonton Actors Theatre. Photo by Mat Simpson.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

The people of The Seagull, Anton Chekhov’s first great masterpiece, are chafing with confusion, disappointment, unrequited desire, time, ego.

The people of Stupid Fucking Bird, an irreverent modern remix by American playwright Aaron Posner, are like that too. 

It’s a veritable soul-searcher’s convention at a country house where an artsy assortment of actresses, a playwright, a writer, a doctor are scrambling to make some sense of love and art in all their absurdities.

That sassy title will make Stupid Fucking Bird sound like a Chekhov parody. It isn’t though, says Dave Horak, the theatrical provocation specialist who’s directing the seven-actor Edmonton Actors Theatre production that opens Thursday at the Backstage Theatre. “It’s smarter than a parody….  Actually, it’s the truest version of The Seagull I’ve ever read: the needs, the wants, the missed opportunities, the levels of love, desire, relationships.”

Horak’s indie company has provided Edmonton audiences with such boldly off-centre theatrical adventures as Fat Boy with its rampaging maniac title character, and Burning Bluebeard, the Christmas panto that opens with the singed cast emerging from body bags. With Stupid Fucking Bird, the company is taking on the master of nuance himself, often parodied as vague and mopey, or else caffeinated into more strident forms of absurdity.

Posner, thinks Horak, “is trying to deal into something Chekhov was working on, that feeling of waiting, longing, not getting what you want….” In short, he says, “it feels like life!”

“Do you feel you’re never really in your life, you’re putting on a performance? We talk about this all time,” says Horak of his all-star cast of theatre pros.” The feeling that being onstage is more real than real life…. And these conversations are in the play; these characters are aware they’re characters in a play.” They know they have an audience.

Ian Leung and Melissa Thingelstad, Stupid Fucking Bird, Edmonton Actors Theatre. Photo by Mat Simpson.

Ian Leung and Melissa Thingelstad, Stupid Fucking Bird, Edmonton Actors Theatre. Photo by Mat Simpson.

Horak has been doing a full-body Chekhov immersion, since he’s also directing his first-year MacEwan University theatre students into Chekhov scenes, too. “It took them a bit of time to get into it. But, in a weird way, they understand it so well. Young people understand half-sentences, not quite being able to communicate. They really understand mis-communication issues!”

So why Chekhov, often parodied for the mopey discontented passivity of his characters? “Life doesn’t feel net and tidy, one thing leading to another,” he muses. “In Chekhov, people are bumping into each other. Random things come into their lives. The most important bits of information are mumbled. Or put off to the side.”

Horak looks for an example. At the end of Chekhov’s Three Sisters there’s a duel. “Someone gets shot. And someone brings that information onstage, and whispers it in your ear….”

Paula Humby and Ben Stevens in Stupid Fucking Bird, Edmonton Actors Theatre. Photo by Mat Simpson.

Paula Humby and Ben Stevens in Stupid Fucking Bird, Edmonton Actors Theatre. Photo by Mat Simpson.

Spare and imaginative theatricality interests Horak, as you’ll know if you saw Burning Bluebeard or Fat Boy. Stupid Fucking Bird, he says, “doesn’t need a fancy set…. We’re staging it in an alley (configuration). The audience needs to feel so close for this show….”

Like Chekhov’s original cast in the 1890s, Horak’s actors are all connected in relationships offstage, he says. Ben Stevens and Paula Humby are engaged. Melissa Thingelstad and Ian Leung (who were in Fat Boy together) are long-time partners. Mat Simpson and Zoe Glassman have been friends forever, says Horak. all have relationships offstage. “It really works for this show, real relationships…. It’s a big advantage that people really know each other. Weirdly, it really shows up onstage this time!”

PREVIEW

Stupid Fucking Bird

Theatre: Edmonton Actors Theatre

Written by: Aaron Posner

Directed by: Dave Horak

Starring: Robert Benz, Zoe Glassman, Paula Humby, Mat Simpson, Ben Stevens, Ian Leung, Melissa Thingelstad

Where: Backstage Theatre, ATB Financial Arts Barns, 10330 84 Ave.

Running: Thursday through March 12

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