‘Stupid F---ing Bird’ taking flight again at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company


From left, Rick Foucheux, Brad Koed and Darius Pierce in the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company production of “Stupid F---ing Bird.” (Stan Barouh)
March 7

This summer, the bird will be back at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.

The Penn Quarter-based theater troupe has announced that its summer lineup will include the return of its hit show from 2013, “Stupid F---ing Bird,” a profane tale of artistic angst based on Anton Chekhov’s play “The Seagull.” The remount will run from July 28 through Aug. 17 and will feature all seven members of last year’s cast.

“I was so thrilled with that production,” playwright Aaron Posner said. “There is something fabulous when a cast has a chance to let a show marinate and to see what they bring back to it a year later. I am awfully excited about it this.”

Posner, a writer and director who lives in Silver Spring, spoke by phone from Las Vegas, where he is directing a multidisciplinary jackpot production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” The show opens April 6 and features magic by Teller (of Penn and Teller), songs by Tom Waits and choreography by Pilobolus.

Working with so many celebrities, he could justifiably not be thinking about his little play that was such a hit last summer. But Posner still has the “Bird” on his brain, because “it is nice and gently picking up steam.” Later this month, a small theater in Boston will stage the second professional production, and in June, the Theatre at Boston Court, a well-regarded experimental theater company that Posner calls the “Woolly of Los Angeles,” will give the play its professional West Coast premiere.

“Bird” is catching on at colleges as well. “As soon as universities started asking, I’ve just been saying ‘yes,’ ” Posner said. University of California Santa Cruz will give the campus premiere in May, and three more colleges have received rights for the 2014-2015 school year. Posner recognizes that this isn’t the typical path that playwrights like to see their work take. The University of Maryland’s current production of “Spring Awakening” is a good example: That hit musical went from off-Broadway to Broadway to regional theaters, and now, six years later, is turning up in campus theaters.

“While I certainly hope that it gets done by every regional theater in the world, I’m particularly thrilled that some universities are jumping on [‘Bird’], because it feels like such a good piece for that demographic,” Posner said. “If I’m going to be honest, the play’s primary life is not going to be at the largest regional theaters, because it is called ‘Stupid F---ing Bird.’ ”

The play has not yet been published, but no one has called Posner’s agent requesting a new title. “No one has asked about the name; everyone has been asking me about the marketing materials,” Posner said. (Deeksha Gaur, Woolly’s director of marketing and public relations, confirmed that she’s also been fielding similar queries from other theaters struggling to advertise the profanely titled show.)

“F---ing Bird” (Or “F##king Bird,” as Posner prefers) is garnering additional national publicity because late last month, the American Theatre Critics Association announced that the play was a finalist for the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award, a $25,000 prize for the best script that receives its first professional production outside New York City. The winner will be announced April 5 at the Humana Festival of New Plays in Louisville, Ky., but Posner faces tough local competition: Jane Martin’s “H2O,” which debuted last summer at the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, is also nominated, and since ATCA held its annual conference in West Virginia last year, that’s the play more critics have seen.

Nonetheless, Posner was happy to be nominated, and that’s not something he says with forced enthusiasm.

“The play is getting done,” he said. “And I’m delighted. I’m a pragmatist.”

Howard Shalwitz, Woolly’s artistic director, says the decision to bring back “Bird” was also a case of artistically motivated pragmaticism. Woolly has a history of remounting its own productions, most recently the Tony-winning “Clybourne Park,” which opened at Woolly in 2010 and was reprised in 2011.

“Remounts attract new audiences,” Shalwitz said. “It has to be a very special project that you think has legs, and one that, like ‘Clybourne Park,’ we feel represents the theater in a unique way.”

In his very positive review of “Bird” that ran in the paper last year, Post critic Nelson Pressley said Posner’s play “is less an adaptation of Chekhov’s landmark drama than a funny, moving slugfest, a ripe mashup of mock and awe.”

Woolly’s remount was carefully planned to be sure all seven local actors — including Kate Eastwood Norris, Cody Nickell, Rick Foucheux and Kimberly Gilbert — would be available. Shalwitz was happy the casting worked out, and he was pleased that the play will be back onstage before another Chekhovian riff makes its D.C. debut: “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” Christopher Durang’s 2013 Tony winner.

“I am actually happy we doing ‘Bird’ again before Arena Stage does ‘Vanya,’ ” Shalwitz said. “I think that ‘Stupid F---ing Bird’ is a better play. It’s a more ambitious play, and it still tries to honor the depth of ‘The Seagull.’ ”

Who has signed up to direct “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” at Arena Stage in April 2015? Some guy named Aaron Posner.

Well, Shalwitz says, “It will be fun for him.”

Ritzel is a freelance writer.

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