Audiences gathered in the T.F. Green Hall downspace from Nov. 10 to 13 for student association Shakespeare on the Green’s production of “Stupid F*cking Bird.” Written by American playwright Aaron Posner, the play is a contemporary adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s 1895 work “The Seagull.”
The play explores the relationships between characters disillusioned by art, love and unfulfilled desires. As the characters struggle to find deeper meaning in life, they are forced to confront the pointlessness of their professional and romantic pursuits and their roles in the world.
Director Maddie Groff ’23 first read “The Seagull” during a high school summer theater program. Initially finding the source text difficult to approach, she came across a translation by Curt Columbus, artistic director of the Brown-Trinity MFA Program and professor of the practice of theatre arts and performance studies, that was “accessible and relatable to modern audiences,” she said.
The play “feels different from a lot of other staunch, Western pillars of classic theater I’ve read before,” Groff said. She had envisioned bringing the play to the Brown community since arriving on campus, having acted in a production of “Stupid F*cking Bird” in high school.
“It’s a beautiful play for young people because it’s so much about wanting things and doing anything to get those things, even if that means hurting yourself or other people,” she said.
Groff also believes that the production could not have come at a better time, as “we’re all still trying to figure our way out of the mess of the pandemic,” she added.
Shakespeare on the Green approved the play for production in September. The show was cast early and rehearsed for two months, which is typical of Chekhovian productions, Groff said.
When casting the play, Groff and her directorial team of Marielle Buxbaum ’24 and Annie Stein ’24 were looking for people who were willing to take risks and experiment on stage.
The cast “aren’t just characters,” Groff said. “The play feels so lived in because they’ve taken it and made it (into) … a version of the play that is so unique to these people.”
Buxbaum added that improvisation based on audience interaction brought out the natural personality of the characters in the play. She also highlighted how the creation of larger-than-life moments helped express the characters’ feelings.
“There’s a moment when there’s a bunch of characters around the stage (simulating the sound of a thumping heartbeat) while two characters are having a moment of tension,” Buxbaum said. “It’s not realist, but it’s actually more realistic.”
Groff said her vision with the play was to “take a play that is an adaptation of something canonized in the world of theater and tear it apart, limb by limb.”
Despite being inspired by “The Seagull,” the directorial team “tried to emphasize throughout the process that this is a standalone play in a lot of ways,” Stein said. Not only is it an adaptation, but it is a play about what adaptation means and what purpose it serves, she added.
Adaptations allow us to “continue to reflect the human experience. If we take the old and make it new, it shows us how we’ve changed over time,” Groff explained. “This adaptation really brings out the generational divide between characters that drives the conflict of the play,” she said.
The play also features a dynamic set, where characters “deconstruct their world and their set” by making a physical mess that represents the messiness of their lives, Buxbaum said. “All the destruction on the stage felt like it came from the characters’ desires.”
Groff said that she included Chekhov’s commentary on who has the privilege to make a mess in the world by allowing some characters to create a mess and having others clean up behind them.
Maria Gomberg ’26, who played the character of Nina, said that handling the dynamic motion of the set was an accessory to the “vibrant dynamic” among the cast members.
“Stupid F*cking Bird” was Gomberg’s first acting experience at Brown. Her character is a hopeful young actress who struggles with feelings of inadequacy while being an outsider to the family the play is centered around, she explained.
“It was a difficult process to put myself in the headspace of a character who is confronting so much pain but, at the same time, experiences so much joy throughout the play,” Gomberg said. “I had to access so many types of emotion within myself,” she added, noting that rereading the play allowed her to gain respect for Nina and continue improving her character.
Gomberg also emphasized that the production process with the directorial team and actors was very collaborative. “My voice had a place in a lot of the decisions that were made,” she said.
As audiences watched the play, Groff hoped that they completely immersed themselves in the emotional journey of the characters on stage.
Buxbaum aimed to leave audiences thinking about “what it means to be present in life, and what do our relationships mean to us? What does art mean to you if it’s a part of your life?”
Audience member Rafael Erdley ’23 heard about the play through a friend in the cast. “I was completely enthralled. … (The actors) were super flexible and they engaged the audience at all the right times,” he said. “They kept people interested, but also made it a little bit uncomfortable, which made sure people (became) a part of the production itself.”
“Stupid F*cking Bird” ran with sold-out shows throughout the weekend.