If you couldn’t guess from the title of the play, I would say this upcoming show at the Station Theatre is not kid-friendly. However it is adult-friendly, and from the little bit of narrative I caught during rehearsal on Monday evening I already know it is extremely hilarious. And no, it’s not just about a bird.
No need to fear if you haven’t read Anton Chekov’s The Seagull, as this story exists in its own universe despite being inspired by the late Russian great. I personally have never read The Seagull as I struggled through Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard. I don’t know if I possess the stamina to remember all the insanely complex Russian names. And oh boy, are there a lot of them!
Luckily for me and anyone else who shares my qualms with Chekov, playwright Aaron Posner makes the narrative of The Seagull more accesible to 21st Century audiences with his adaptation with twists, Stupid F*#king Bird.
The characters ride a wild merry-go-round of love, loss, misery and laughs in which: nice guy Dev suffers from unrequited love for Mash, who composes cleverly despairing songs on the ukulele, while Mash is desperately in love with Con, a passionate playwright who is deeply in love with Nina, his beautiful, vibrant muse, who becomes entranced by Trigorin, a literary star, who happens to be dating Con’s mother Emma, a successful actress. With a dead bird, a gun, and a little help from its friends, this edgy, funny, and compassionate reboot of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull is a hilarious and moving meditation on love, art, life, and the world we live in.
Smile Politely: What drew you to the script? Why did you choose Stupid F*#cking Bird?
Kay Holley: [laughs] Yeah, I’ve been asking myself that. [My husband] Dave works at the Music and Performing Arts Library and he looked at it and thought that I’d be interested in it so he brought it home and I read it. This was a long time ago, a year and half at least — if not two years ago — and something really just drew me to it. I thought, “if I ever I ever direct again, I can direct this.”
One of the number one things that was intriguing is that it was based on The Seagull. At that time I hadn’t read The Seagull since I was in graduate school; I could only remember the general outline of The Seagull. Then it just was fun, it was playful. it was very theatrical. It was only a little later that I went back and reread The Seagull and discovered how closely this thing goes with the way it’s laid out in The Seagull. It has some of the characters from The Seagull, but some of them have been mashed together. And so then that brings that level of — well, what happens in The Seagull? — The Seagull gets very dark, lots of feeling, people yearning, and that’s true in this play as well.
SP: You touched a little bit about how it’s so closely entwined with the original script and it’s obviously an adaptation for the 21st century, so how does it ruminate itself in the 21st century?
Holley: If I’m gonna characterize what’s at the heart of it, it’s about love and all that that means in being a human being. It’s about art and what that means in the life of artists and other humans. It’s about loss and there’s not one of us that doesn’t experience that. Really, when we were rehearsing we discovered that so many of the scenes are about really fundamental stuff that humans go through.
Aaron Posner said “I don’t claim to have the genius of Chekov, but I told the truth in this play. I told the truth as I’ve observed it and experienced it in my life, I’ve observed it in the life of my family, of my friends and I try to tell about true things that happen in human beings lives, in artists lives,” and so forth. And so some very interesting pieces of truth come through. And it’s funny and gets silly, but it also has something to say about what it means to be human.
SP: What has your rehearsal process looked like?
Holley: We rehearsed for five weeks away from the theatre. We were were at Joi Hoffsommer’s house in the upstairs. It was a delightful rehearsal period. I have a cast that is mixed between three people who are less experienced either because of their age or because they just haven’t done much theatrically — Bill Kephart is a movie actor primarily and Jake Fava and Hannah Yonan are young people — and then I have these pros Lindsey Gates-Markel, Gary Ambler, and Joi Hoffsommer. It was particularly exciting to work with the young actors. They were just finding things that were great. In the rehearsal process they made me laugh, they made me cry, they made me tell stories. Maybe I went on and on telling my stories to them too much, but they seemed to love it.
SP: Did you have any “A-ha!” moments?
Holley: Yes I did and I don’t think it could be written about because it gives away the end of the play!
SP: Describe some of your experiences working with the cast. Have they changed your perceptions of the story through their work or are they pretty clear-cut as to how you envisioned the characters and the story?
Holley: There is what the playwright calls a metatheatrical element to this play. Really, the actors exploring that opened it up for me. I don’t think it’s particularly groundbreaking and you never know how audiences are going to respond to it, but it’s watching the actors figuring out what’s going on here. And then we finally got it through our heads that when we interact with the audience, or behave like actors up here instead of characters, we aren’t the character or the actors. We’re in this play and we are these characters. Both in life and acting the play, we are these characters. The ways that they found to bring their character in the play to the metatheatrical part were really enlightening and made it more substantive for me.
SP: This is the last announced show at the Station for the year thus far. Any insight on what is yet to come or anything that you’d like to see happen for the theatre in the next year?
Holley: I don’t have any inside scoop on what is going to happen — not even for summer — but we are coming up on our 50th anniversary in a few years and I’m hoping we’ll be really strong as we go through these years up to 50. I think that’s a great accomplishment and the fact that we have had our own space and kept it running for that long is just so amazing.
SP: Any last thoughts or anything you wanted to share with Smile Politely readers before they see the show?
Holley: I just hope they enjoy it. I hope they go along with us on this journey. I hope that it moves them and makes them laugh the way that it has me.
Stupid F*#king Bird
The Celebration Company at the Station Theatre
223 N Broadway Ave, Urbana
April 18th to May 4th
All shows at 7:30 p.m. with the exception of a 3 p.m. matinee on April 28th
Tickets: $15 regular, $10 students & seniors
Order tickets online here
Watch the video trailer on YouTube by clicking here
All rehearsal photos by Katie Burke