Theatre Review: ‘Stupid F–king Bird’ at Actor’s Express

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 1.15.28 PMBy Manning Harris
fmanningh@gmail.com

Who would have thought a nice Jewish boy like Aaron Posner, author of a gentle, charming play like “My Name Is Asher Lev,” had a powerhouse artistic smackdown like “Stupid F**king Bird” in him?

Those inimitable provocateurs at Actor’s Express are presenting the glorious “Bird,” and it runs through Oct. 11.

The program notes that “Stupid F**king Bird” is “sort of based on ‘The Seagull,’ by Anton Chekhov,” but you don’t have to know a line of the Chekhov play to have a ball at “Bird.”

The characters’ names are based loosely on those in “The Seagull,” but I’m going to have a little fun and only refer to them by the actor’s name who plays the character. These actors are so terrific that they deserve every ounce of recognition we can offer. Besides, one of the main themes of the play is that we must be open to new forms of expression.

I must further tell you that most of Posner’s people are quicksilver characters, cool and willful one moment, fragile and yearning the next. They are achingly human but supremely theatrical, and must be experienced live, in the theatre, for real appreciation.

An ad for the show says “a passionate young director fights for the future of his art while competing with a famous novelist for the affections of a beautiful young actress. His mother, an aging Hollywood star, struggles with fading youth and her lover’s wandering eye.” This description may sound a bit prosaic on paper, but it’s only an outline; in the live theatre, everything is intensified and electric. The audience was on the edge of its seat.

“I’m unhappy in love,” mourns Matt Felten to his equally morose friend Rhyn Saver, who proceeds to sing (and very well) that “Life is a burden and a bore and so disappointing,” accompanying herself on the guitar. No, “Bird” is not a musical; but occasionally people sing.

Robert Lee Hindsman is mightily smitten with Stephanie Friedman, but she is drawn to the handsome Evan Cleaver, that successful writer just mentioned. “Do artists have to suffer?” he wonders.

Robert’s new play is called “Here We Are,” which he repeats several times. At this point I began to feel echoes of “Waiting for Godot,” Beckett’s existential masterwork, whose first line is “Nothing to be done.” What a shame Chekhov didn’t get to read that play; you can bet your mortgage that Posner did.

“That pretentious drivel was an attack on me,” complains Lane Carlock, referring to her son Robert’s latest work. Lane (okay, Emma in the play) takes everything personally. She especially takes personally the fact that her boyfriend Evan is in love with the lovely, insecure Stephanie.

Theo Harness, a gentleman of a certain age and Lane’s brother, wonders “What the hell happened to my 40’s? I think I’m ready to handle my late 20’s really well now.” Mr. Harness is funny and touching at the same time.

Robert hilariously and brilliantly breaks the theatre’s “fourth wall” and moans to the audience, “She loves me not!” But he goes further. He asks and gets actual verbal responses from several audience members and so dexterously weaves them into the play that my companion that evening was sure the the audience members were “plants,” actors. They are not.

Director Freddie Ashley’s blocking is wondrously fluid and organic. Again, this play has a quicksilver magic about it that is hard to convey verbally. At times, I felt echoes of “A Little Night Music”; at other times, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” But not to worry: Everything is very modern.

Many of the lines are so bitingly eloquent you have to gasp even as you laugh..Yes, with “Stupid F**ing Bird” we are definitely experiencing intoxicating new forms of theatrical expression. You must not miss it.

Do you feel thwarted? The play deals with that—a lot. And this work is ineffable; it must be experienced. By the way, Leslie Taylor’s scenic design is inspired and gorgeous.

I haven’t really paid proper homage to this miraculous cast. A few tidbits: Robert Lee Hindsman is a revelation; with this performance he gives notice that he is a player to be reckoned with. Rhyn Saver is a flawless actress and singer; so is Matt Felten; both actors are making their Express debuts.

Evan Cleaver and Stephanie Friedman are living proof that good looks and real talent can coexist. Ms. Friedman gives an especially tremulous, magnetic performance.

Lane Carlock is a supremely self-assured actor with nary a false note; the same goes for Theo Harness, about whom we spoke earlier.

Freddie Ashley knows how to pick and cast plays. Experiencing “Bird” made me think of descriptions I’ve read of Stravinsky’s 1913 opening night in Paris of the ballet “The Rite of Spring,” during which the audience started to riot. You probably won’t riot, but you may certainly want to rejoice.

For tickets and information, visit actors-express.com.

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