Theater Review

Feathers fly during Fort Worth troupe's meta stage marvel

Feathers fly during Fort Worth troupe's meta stage marvel

Laurel Whitsett, Chris Hury, Kelsey Milbourn, Randy Pearlman, Matthew Grondin in Stupid Fucking Bird
Laurel Whitsett, Chris Hury, Kelsey Milbourn, Randy Pearlman, and Matthew Grondin in Stupid Fucking Bird. Photo by Buddy Myers
Randy Pearlman, Garret Storms, Matthew Grondin in Stupid Fucking Bird
Randy Pearlman, Garret Storms, and Matthew Grondin. Photo by Buddy Myers
Alexandra Lawrence, Garret Storms in Stupid Fucking Bird
Alexandra Lawrence and Garret Storms. Photo by Buddy Myers
Garret Storms, Matthew Grondin in Stupid Fucking Bird
Storms and Grondin in the set's treehouse. Photo by Buddy Myers
Laurel Whitsett, Chris Hury, Kelsey Milbourn, Randy Pearlman, Matthew Grondin in Stupid Fucking Bird
Randy Pearlman, Garret Storms, Matthew Grondin in Stupid Fucking Bird
Alexandra Lawrence, Garret Storms in Stupid Fucking Bird
Garret Storms, Matthew Grondin in Stupid Fucking Bird

Anything that bills itself as "meta" runs the risk of being too clever for its own good. Same goes for something that declares it's aiming to be a "new form of art," a groundbreaking event that audiences have never experienced before. In other words, don't give us Chekhov's gun if you don't intend to fire it.

Though Aaron Posner makes all these claims within his "sort of" adaptation of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull, he does indeed pull the trigger. Retitled Stupid Fucking Bird, the play pulls Chekhov's characters out of 19th-century Russia and plants them firmly in contemporary America. But it seems ennui and angst are not bound by time or geography, as these seven individuals are still pining for what they can't have, chasing what they shouldn't have, and ignoring what they've already got.

Director Emily Scott Banks keeps their twisted love lives straight over three acts at Stage West, which more or less mirror the action of Chekhov's source material. Twitchy young artist Conrad (Garret Storms) is prepping for a performance of his experimental work Here We Are, starring his neighbor and crush Nina (Alexandra Lawrence). It's on the same stage in the same forest at the same country house where his mother used to perform little plays, on breaks from building her career as a famous actress.

Now his mother (Laurel Whitsett) is visiting with her new boy-toy, the famous novelist Doyle Trigorin (Christ Hury, always dependable as the charming slimeball). Conrad's friends Dev (Matthew Grondin) and Mash (Kelsey Milbourn) are on hand to make sure the show goes off without a hitch, while Uncle Eugene (Randy Pearlman) calmly observes his brood's bad behavior.

Everyone there is a terrible person, at least to varying degrees. Whitsett relishes the haughty, snotty self-absorbtion that defines her as the aging actress, Emma, and isn't afraid to pull out the claws when her territory is threatened. That would be by Nina, as both an actress on the rise and a pretty young thing who's throwing herself at Trigorin. Lawrence seems more at home with Nina's tragedy than her seduction, which makes her status as a girl two men are fighting over a bit hard to swallow.

It's also hard to see why Milbourn's Mash is so in love with Storms' Conrad — she states it several times, but there's zero indication of her longing when she's around him. So when she ends up happily coupled with Dev, it's no great surprise. Milbourn and Grondin play a delightful guitar and ukulele duet, one of the several songs sprinkled throughout the production that give it a bit of hipster flair. Milbourn's strumming skills are utilized throughout, and when paired with Dana Shultes' coffee house-esque sound design, it establishes the right mood of wistful, quirky melancholy.

Luke Atkison's lighting and Brian Clinnin's set also deserve nods, as they playfully conjure a magical forest and quaint country cottage while remaining slightly unsettling. When the house is cracked open for act two, the Pinterest-worthy kitchen feels exactly right for this bunch. And the surprised "oohs" from the audience when Storms blends a smoothie onstage are classic.

Posner might not have created the singular artform his characters so earnestly reference — breaking the fourth wall isn't exactly new — but as a sassy riff on a well-known classic, his play is mighty entertaining. And anytime there's a chance for Checkhov to be told through crop tops, ukuleles, and stupid fucking dessert, I'm there.

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Stupid Fucking Bird runs through February 19 at Stage West.