Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Stupid F*@#ing Bird @ Woolly Mammoth, Washington DC

-          “Is that a seagull?”                                
-          “It’s just a bird. A stupid fucking bird”.

After the thoroughly traditional Newsies on Broadway, I was ready for something a bit more transgressive when I reached D.C. As the title would suggest, Stupid Fucking Bird, Aaron Posner's postmodern take on Chekhov’s The Seagull, certainly didn’t disappoint.

The enormous Latin American Studies Association Conference didn’t leave me with a huge amount of free time to explore D.C., so it was sheer luck that on my – rather long! – walk from the National Gallery of Art to the conference I happened to walk past the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and their rather eye-catching posters for their latest production.

You’d be forgiven for guessing from the poster that the play is about Twitter. It’s actually far more interesting and original than that, but social media does have a very important presence in the lobby (see #sfl). With ‘Pinspiration stations’ and tweets projected onto the walls, the audience are encouraged to interact with both the text of the original play and the very idea of art.

The play itself questions the form and purpose of theatre just as Chekhov had done with his original over a century before, while bringing Chekhov's famous subtext out into the open. It is self-reflexive, self-referential, and completely breaks the fourth wall, frequently addressing the audience for input. Further nods to Chekhov include a small pile of leaves hinting at the bucolic setting of his plays, and Banksy style mural of the great Russian playwright on the back wall.

Just like Chekhov's Konstantin, the main character Conrad (Brad Koed) expresses his belief that theatre – at least in Eastern Europe in the late 19th century  - used to have the power to change society. ‘Why would you want to change the world?’ asks Dev (Darius Pierce), the most grounded character in the production.  The question, like the production as a whole, makes us consider what we, as an audience, want to get out of the theatre. While Stupid Fucking Bird won't change the world, it did give me everything I want from a play. Despite the distancing effect of all this experimentation with form, there are still moments when the audience completely lose ourselves in the play; there is shock, happiness, despair and a whole lot of laughs, interlaced with really thought-provoking moments. I was incredibly impressed that one production could have so many different effects on me. Since I saw the production, on the second night of previews, it has unsurprisingly garnered rave reviews.

I later learned that Woolly Mammoth is just one of a host of new experimental theatres that have popped up in D.C. in recent years. Apparently new zoning laws make it far more economically beneficial for developers to turn the first few floors of their new buildings into public arts spaces. If the quality of productions at Woolly Mammoth is anything to judge by, it would seem this law is paving the way for a new wave of exciting, experimental theatre in D.C. It makes me wish the city weren't quite so far away!  

Stupid Fucking Bird runs at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Co, Washington D.C. until June 23 2013. Full information and tickets are available here.

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