One of the great theatrical classics is "The Seagull." Russian writer Anton Chekhov's exploration of an artistic family's personal dramas was first performed in 1897. It has received countless serious productions as well as satiric adaptations in the 120 years since its premiere.
Aaron Posner's 2013 play "Stupid F---ing Bird" is, as its title indicates, a decidedly 21st century take on Chekhov's plot and themes. Far from completely serious but not a spoof, Posner's award-winning work references "The Seagull" plenty while offering its own unique perspectives on modern art, politics, love and family. It is being presented by Long Beach's ever-adventurous Garage Theatre now through April 29. Fear not, Chekhov purists: a seagull still makes an appearance.
In this new iteration, young playwright-director Con (often addressed as "Connie") gathers friends at the home of his movie star mother, Emma, for a preview of his latest production. Among the attendees are aspiring actress Nina, with whom Con is in love; stagehand Mash, who is in love with Con; Dev, Con's best friend who is in love with Mash; Trig, Emma's celebrity author lover; and Dr. Sorn, the family's longtime physician. Anyone familiar with "The Seagull" likely will recognize the prototypes for these characters.
Nina and Trig quickly find themselves attracted to each other, which upsets everyone else's relationships. In keeping with Chekhov's original, a distraught Con attempts suicide. All the characters are given the opportunity to reflect on what matters most in life as well as what doesn't matter so much. In doing so, they often break the fourth wall and speak directly to the audience.
"Stupid F---ing Bird" revels in being a "meta" commentary on the current state of theatre, politics and relationships. Chekhov, President Trump and reality TV are frequently mentioned. Fully aware that there is an audience watching, the protagonists often reference us viewers. They even expect those in attendance to give them permission to "start the stupid f---ing play," in those words. The effect of such interaction plus Posner's sometimes heady text can be dizzying, especially within the Garage's small performance space. Things are quite literally in the 30 or so audience members' faces.
This is an important, timely new work and the seven players currently bringing it to life are uniformly excellent. As Con, the emotional center of the piece, classically-trained Joey Millin has a demanding task but succeeds beautifully. His sincerity enables the audience to identify with his character's conjoined romantic and artistic plight. Kate Felton is equally adept as Emma, Con's narcissistic but disarmingly vulnerable mother. Acacia Fisher and Steven C. Martin are both suitably fresh-faced as the naive Nina and Dev, respectively, while Nori Tecosky makes the strong-willed Mash not only likable but admirable. Garage company member Paul Knox revealed some new, deeper layers to me as the philosophical Trig, while Allen Sewell provides much of the comic relief as bewildered Dr. Sorn.
Matthew Anderson and Maribella Magana provide excellent direction within the versatile set created by Rob Young and his crew. For more information and tickets, visit www.thegaragetheatre,org or call (562) 433-8337.