Review: UMD is making a play that isn’t ‘The Seagull’ – Duluth News Tribune


No, I’m not going to put “Stupid F##king Bird” in the title and will resist the temptation to work in double hashtags throughout this review. Instead, I’ll just say that the production that kicked off at UMD on Friday night is a hugely engaging rollercoaster theatrical experience.

In case it’s not obvious from this title, playwright Aaron Posner stripped Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull” down to the skeleton, with a few bits of flesh left over (I recognized at least one line from Chekhov at first). There are many interesting ways to characterize the end result, but I’ll follow playwright Gavin Orson’s use of “metatheatricality.”

The point is not that you need to know Chekhov to get this game. You just have to love theater.

Chekhov wanted “The Seagull” to be a comedy, but Konstantin Stanislavski’s production convinced people it was a tragedy. Posner’s version makes it a real tragicomedy.

In other words, you’re going to have a good laugh, but you’re also going to take a few hits.

This plot presents a chain of unrequited love. Dev loves Mash who loves Conrad who loves Nina who loves Trigorin who loves Emma. This announces up to four intersecting love triangles and makes Conrad, the young, suffering artist, the central character of the play.

Director Lauren Roth takes full advantage of the privacy offered by the Dudley Experimental Theatre. Each character has a long monologue addressed to the audience, performed up close and personal.

As Conrad, Hunter Ramsden launches into epic rants, bringing as much passion as sheer speed to these outbursts. Posner likes to take sharp left turns with his dialogue, and Ramsden not only manages those, but he also constantly changes his delivery. These rants break the fourth wall, and one of them is done without a net because it involves interaction with the audience.

Conrad is trying to revolutionize theatre, to do something that is “authentic” rather than “pretend”.

His muse is Nina, played by Isabelle Hopewell, the actress of his ongoing “Here We Are” work and the object of his thwarted desire. In a show that has so many awesome performance moments, there’s Nina’s final monologue, where Hopewell had me laughing at a stupid t-shirt joke, and then I had tears in my eyes less than 30 seconds later.

Irie Unity plays the little dark cloud that is Mash and it’s wonderfully ironic how she expresses her depression by singing songs about how “life is disappointing”, while playing the ukulele.

Cody Do gives Dev a certain naïve charm that helps explain why the character is able to stay out of the line of fire when any combination of the other six chases.

Maddie Froehle’s Emma is one actress who doesn’t need to have seen a show first to report it. Emma is also Conrad’s mother, although in name only. Even when Emma says the right words, Froehle strips them of the required emotion.

What I loved about Luke Pfluger’s performance as Trigorin was that I hated the character the moment he took to the stage with that smug little smile. Trigorin quickly proved himself to be arrogant, pompous, and everything that Conrad was not (and not in a good way).

The character caught in the middle by his exclusion from the chain of love is Dr. Sorn, played by Jack Senske. We wait the whole play for him to confront the others, and I liked the way he did most of the time with his back to the audience.

It also has the best use of a Life Savers candy since “Horsefeathers”.

Chekhov wondered what the theater should be in his time. He wanted realism. Posner wants something more. A measure of his success as a playwright and these seven performers is that at the end of the three acts (the intermission comes after the second act), the audience did not know it was time to applaud.

Because they weren’t watching the play, they were experiencing the theater.

That, more than the romantic entanglements, is what you’re supposed to get out of this game.

I almost made it…

What: “Stupid F##king Bird”, written by Aaron Posner, somewhat adapted from “The Seagull” by Anton Chekhov

Where: Marshall Performing Arts Center, Dudley Experimental Theater on the University of Minnesota Duluth campus

Date: November 4-5, 8-12 at 7:30 p.m. November 6 and 12 at 2 p.m.

Tickets: $10 students; $20 UMD faculty/staff/veterans; $25 adult.

Lawrance Bernabo is a theater and arts critic for the Duluth News Tribune.


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