Preview: Quill Theatre's "Stupid Fucking Bird" Takes the Best of Chekhov and Leaves the Rest 

click to enlarge The talented cast of Quill Theatre’s “Stupid Fucking Bird” is filled with local award winners tackling a work which won the Helen Hayes Award for best new play in 2013.

The talented cast of Quill Theatre’s “Stupid Fucking Bird” is filled with local award winners tackling a work which won the Helen Hayes Award for best new play in 2013.

The cast of Quill Theatre’s next show, “Stupid Fucking Bird,” is so good, it’s hard to believe one production can incorporate so much talent.

The show’s director, Jon Kretzu, is based in Portland, Oregon, and so wasn’t quite aware of what he was getting during the casting process. “A lot of people read for these parts but I didn’t know the actors’ reputations,” Kretzu says. “I just picked the best people I saw.”

“Bird” is a very loose retelling of famed Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s 1895 family dramedy “The Seagull,” set in modern times and spun into a crazy meta-theatrical experience. Kretzu says that, while the script is true to the spirit of Chekhov, it takes the basic story into unexpected new directions. “The show requires some incredible character actors,” he explains. “You really need the A team.”

Kretzu certainly got what he needed. In the cast of seven, three actors — Jeff Clevenger, Chandler Hubbard and McLean Jesse — received Richmond Theatre Critics Circle awards this past October for their work during the 2014-’15 season. Audra Honaker and Katie McCall are past award winners. Key roles are filled by Jeremy Morris, a standout in Quill’s recent “Hamlet,” and the near-legendary stage veteran David Bridgewater.

Though “Bird” is a true ensemble piece, much of the action centers on the character of Con, played by Hubbard, the youngest actor in the cast. Hubbard calls being part of such a powerhouse troupe a surreal experience. “I grew up watching some of these actors,” the 2012 University of Virginia graduate says. “I can remember seeing David on stage when I was like 10 years old.”
Growing up in Ashland, Hubbard took classes with the School for the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community for five years and then performed in plays at the Maggie Walker Governor’s School. But he put acting on the back burner while at the university to focus on his studies, earning a degree in English literature and psychology. He landed a 9-to-5 job at a law firm after graduation, but he couldn’t keep the allure of the stage at bay, eventually landing a role in TheatreLab’s “See Jane Quit” in 2013.

Hubbard and Jesse were both in the cast of TheatreLab’s “The Altruists” that received the critics’ best ensemble award this year. In “Bird,” Jesse plays Nina, the object of Hubbard’s character’s affection. “The show is packed with experienced actors and Chandler will claim he is in over his head,” says Jesse, who also came away with the critics’ best actress in a play honors this year. “But his eagerness and dedication will prove otherwise.”

Jesse has the distinction of being the only actor in the cast who was intimately familiar with Chekhov’s work. “Playing Nina in ‘The Seagull’ has been a dream of mine for as long as I have been an actress,” she says. Kretzu, who is a true Chekhov aficionado, is surprised that people are not more familiar with the Russian author, saying that a show like ‘Breaking Bad’ wouldn’t exist without him. “Chekhov basically invented the dramedy,” says the director, who first came to Richmond to direct Quill’s “Lion in Winter” last season. “He wrote plays that made people laugh one moment then cry the next, with dialogue full of nonsequiturs and throw-away lines. It’s like the majority of TV shows these days.”

“Bird” has been particularly popular to produce since winning the Helen Hayes award for best new play in 2013, with productions from Chicago to Los Angeles. But Kretzu will be the first, he thinks, to make the play a true environmental experience. “The whole theater is being remade with multiple stages so that actors are sitting in the audience and audience members are on stage. There will be times when actors ask the audience questions and the show won’t go on until they get an answer,” he says. “It will be completely immersive; I think Chekhov would have loved it.” S

“Stupid Fucking Bird,” produced by Quill Theatre Company, will run at the Richmond Triangle Players’ Theatre at 1300 Altamont Avenue from Jan. 7 to 30. Go to quilltheatre.org for tickets and information.

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