Artistic types longing for acclaim, or seeking unattainable love, or even the simple satisfaction of believing they are doing something worthwhile in life – abound in this modern remix of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” a masterful, winsome comedy from the 1890s.
The writers, actors and teachers who interact in this modern update find themselves caught up in their own humorous, woebegon dilemmas.
There’s the intense young playwright, desperately in love with an actress, his muse. But she doesn’t return his ardor, leaving him nervously asking how he could win her favor, even though she clearly doesn’t love him. It’s a hopeless situation, of course:
“Is there something about me that you just don’t like, but can’t quite name? Do you hate my jokes? Do I have bad breath? Am I not funny enough? Do you want someone better at things? Someone taller? Someone thinner? Someone richer? Smarter? Happier? Funnier? More talented?”
Then there’s the gloomy girl – dressed all in black, like melancholy armor – who strums a ukulele and sings a perky tune with doleful lyrics:
“You’re born, and then you live, and then you die… You never know the reason why…”
Such resignation, from a girl in her 20s, manages to feel ridiculous and somewhat tragic at the same time.
And then there’s the wise doctor, a man of 60 reflecting back on life, wondering where all those years went. He asks the audience:
“How the hell did I get here? And that’s bad enough when you’re just driving to the store, or something. But when it’s sometimes years at a time… or a decade… like what the hell happened to my 40s? I mean, I know I was there, I could show you my tax returns. But where the hell was I?”
This Capital Stage production is fueled by marvelous performances, sometimes wistful and introspective, other times raucously absurd, and sometimes the actors address the audience directly. There’s also good original music by Noah Agruss.
Contemporary playwright Aaron Posner peppers the dialog with lots of modern profanity, and yet connects with Chekhov’s elegant original. Posner’s play stands on its own – but if you skim through “The Seagull” beforehand, you’ll spot an extra layer of witty irony in Posner’s “Stupid F***ing Bird” – and that’s a sincere compliment, not a slam.
The comedy “Stupid F-ing Bird” continues at Capital Stage in Sacramento through June 4.
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