Katie deBuys

Stupid bird, damned love

Aaron Posner's contemporary riff on "The Seagull" at Portland Center Stage is prickly, passionate, profane, and loaded with love

The bird, the bird, the damned dead bird. In his great shambling masterwork The Seagull Anton Chekhov never metaphor he didn’t like, but just what the hell does this piece of bagged and bleeding flesh mean, anyway? There it flops, shot out of the air, presented as a desperate gift, and maybe it stands for Nina and maybe it doesn’t, but even if it does, what does it mean about Nina? Theater people and audiences have been arguing about it, or just plain scratching their heads over it, for 120 years.

In Stupid Fucking Bird, Aaron Posner’s prickly, passionate, speech-spouting, erratic, profanity-laced, and sometimes very funny contemporary riff on The Seagull that opened Friday night at Portland Center Stage, it comes out to a great big nothing: a metaphor that just lies there, heavy and inarticulate. It confuses even Connie (Konstantin in the original), the lovelorn radical-symbolist playwright who drops it at his former lover’s feet like a cat presenting a rat to its person, who understandably feels less than flattered by the offering. Like the obsessions of the play’s morose characters, it’s a big meaningless blob that nevertheless gets in the way of everything.

Katie deBuys as Nina in the play-within-a-play, with, from left, Cody Nickell, Kate Eastwood Norris, Charles Leggett, Darius Pierce, Kimberly Gilbert. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv

Katie deBuys as Nina in the play-within-a-play, with, from left, Cody Nickell, Kate Eastwood Norris, Charles Leggett, Darius Pierce, Kimberly Gilbert. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv

That’s sort of the way things go in Chekhov’s universe of missed connections, crossed purposes and obstinate illusions among the fading gentry: ah, life, life! And still, Chekhov thought of his plays as mainly comedies. Konstantin Stanislavski, his most famous and successful director, insisted they were mostly tragedies. Posner thinks of The Seagull, at least, as a handy launching pad for momentum-busting rants on the state of the theater, the hopelessness of love, the lovelessness of hope, and other scraps from the Chekhov notebook.

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