Monday, March 14, 2016

Stupid Fucking Bird—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District

“…on and on…”

This comedy-drama is freely adapted for the stage, from Chekhov’s The Seagull, by Aaron Posner and directed by Howard Shalwitz.  It is playing at their space, 128 NW 11th Ave., through March 27th.  For more information, go to their site at www.pcs.org or call 503-445-3700.

The above sentiment seems to be a recurring theme in Chekhov’s writings, suggesting that Life just seems to be continuing on, like a treadmill we can’t seem to get off (except by Death) for no particular Purpose.  His stories seem peppered with doom and gloom, and death, and despair and deception.  And it seems that everybody only wants is to be loved but, Love is elusive…a trickster…seeking those that it deems worthy of its attention…and finding that mere mortals sorely lack the credentials to entice it to stay for very long.

And, so it is with the melancholy, Conrad (Ian Holcomb), a struggling writer, pining for his alluring leading lady, Nina (Katie deBuys), who is looking to be a big star someday.  Conrad’s mother, the petulant, Emma (Kate Eastwood Norris), was a famous actress on the stage.  Her newest conquest is the egocentric, Trigorin (Cody Nickell), a writer of some renown.  And Conrad is not without his admirers, too, for there is the brooding, Mash (Kimberly Gilbert), a cook, who is hopelessly in love with him, (unrequited, of course).

But it just so happens that Conrad’s best friend, the ever-faithful, Dev (Darius Pierce), a teacher, is crazy about Mash (again, unrequited).  And Emma’s brother, the kindly but perceptive, Eugene (Charles Leggett), a doctor, who just seems to be watching the proceedings from the sidelines, observing the permanent but unchanging Spirit of humankind, floundering forward toward…?  But throw a wrench or two into this “infernal machine” and watch the fireworks, as partners change, and so this Dance of Life is hardly over but has just begun.  How they all play out is the subject of the story, and so it is for you to partake, to see the results of these proceedings.

Are we possibly, as has been said, our own worst enemies?  Chekhov referred to his plays as comedies, although very dramatic and tragic, perhaps, from our perspective.  But he saw the human condition as a comedy and, if you agree with the observation that comedy and tragedy are just two different sides of the same coin, then he is correct.  Example:  If a comedian onstage slips on a banana peel and falls, then bounces up with a funny quip, it is amusing, a comedy.  But if, in real life, someone does that and is injured, it is sad, a tragedy, you see, different sides of the same coin.

But what is interesting about this production, is that the actors break that “fourth wall” for us and talk directly with the audience, the ultimate in audience participation, perhaps.  And, by doing that, we experience with them the dilemma, the “inner dialogue” of the characters (not unlike Wilder’s, Our Town or Master’s, Spoon River Anthology) in order to get a fuller understand of how and why they interact the way they do.  Very effective.

Shalwitz has kept the stage and actors open and free-wheeling most of the time, so that they are not trapped by the normal conventions of society, such as specific places and times.  They interact within a bubble or, like a snapshot, where only certain, crucial aspects of encounters are focused on.  He and Posner’s vision, along with scenic designer, Misha Kachman, offer us a portal between what “really exists,” us, and what is “imagined,” actors, and we discover that even an imaginary existence is still an existence and that we are free to float from one to another as it may benefit us.

All the actors handle their parts very well and have the added difficult task of improvising, when necessary, to encompass the audience’s suggestions.  Sometimes you want to give the characters a good shaking and, at other times, hug them, but all those feelings are because of some very talented actors on the stage who are not only willing to bare their souls for you, but enable you, perhaps, to see reflections of your own lives.  Bravo to all concerned!


I recommend this play.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.