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A Show for the ¿*#! Birds

Flipping the bird to a new generation of theater audiences.

 

Like any good playwright, Aaron Posner loves Russian literary genius Anton Chekhov—but he can’t stand reproductions of his plays. “I love Chekhov, but I’m not interested in museum theater,” Posner says. So he took Chekhov’s landmark 1896 play The Seagull, about a painfully sensitive playwright who’s crushed between a love triangle and his own inner demons, flipped it on its head to appeal to today’s audiences, and titled it (wait for it) Stupid Fucking Bird. Posner and Susi Damilano, cofounder of San Francisco Playhouse, where the play opens on March 21, explain how you disrupt a classic play for a 21st-century market.

The Title: 
It started as a joke, but, it stuck. “I realized that if I actually called the play Stupid Fucking Bird, I would never have to compromise,” says Posner. “Any theater that wouldn’t do the play because of the title wouldn’t be the right place anyhow.” 

The Dialogue:
Chekhov’s script reads like this: “The whole effect will be ruined if Nina is late. Her father and stepmother watch her so closely that it is like stealing her from a prison to get her away from home.” While Posner writes: “How can you always be late? You’re like a fucking genius of lateness.” “Chekhov’s language is so juicy that some actors get lulled and forget to tell a story,” says Damilano. “With Aaron’s play, you don’t have to say a lot.”

The Setting
Chekhov’s country home for privileged Russians has become a lake house full of rich, bored Americans, and Arkadina, the grande dame stage actress who brings everyone together, is now Emma, the retired Hollywood starlet. “We played with the idea of what if Chekhov were alive today, with his iPhone and his computer?” says Damilano. “How would he tell the same themes to a modern audience, and what would it look like?”

The Characters
“I like the characters; I identify with all of them. But they’re so extreme they can be traps,” says Posner. “I wanted to write more about their inner workings so that we understand them better. You look at a character like Masha and ask, why can’t she get it together? So she writes a song about how hard life feels. The more you understand, the less you judge.”

 

Originally published in the March issue of San Francisco

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