Barnstormers present Stupid Fucking Bird at Arellano Theater

By ANNE HOLLMULLER | February 15, 2018

B3_Stupid Fucking Bird
COURTESY OF JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY BARNSTORMERS Usman Enam (left) and Carver Bain (right) starred respectively in the play as Dev and Conrad.

This weekend, the Hopkins Barnstormers presented their Intersession show, Stupid Fucking Bird, in Arellano Theater. The play, written by Aaron Posner, is loosely based upon Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, dealing with some of the same dark and difficult topics as the Russian play in a more lighthearted and modern-day manner. 

The show was directed by Emily Su and was produced by Elizabeth Winkelhoff.

The show focuses on aspiring playwright Conrad (sophomore Carver Bain), who is in love with Nina (freshman Rebecca Penner), a flighty would-be actress. Conrad’s strong-willed mother Emma (senior Sabrina Noelle Viota Archibald), a successful actress, has begun an assignation with famous writer Trigorin (junior David Gumino). 

Mash (sophomore Jackie Gladden), deeply in unrequited love with Conrad, is pursued by the steadfast Dev (sophomore Usman Enam), while Dr. Sorn (senior Ian Stark) is afraid of aging into insignificance. 

As Nina begins straying from Conrad to seek celebrity with Trigorin, the lives of each of these characters begin to unravel. 

The show’s dramatic elements were well-performed by an able cast and heightened by sophomore Sydney Thomas’ insightful use of music to complement the plot. Its humorous aspects, including the repeated breaking of the fourth wall, were deftly handled. 

The minimalist set highlighted the experimental nature of the play, with inventive use of the set by Julia Zimmerman. 

The extended opening sequence, in which Nina enacts the performance art piece conceived by Conrad, is a perfect introduction to the witty, quarrelsome, troubled characters as they interact and react to the rather bizarre performance. 

Through an innovative mixture of dramatic moments and comedic scenes, Stupid Fucking Bird reckons with questions of love, art, fame and friendship in a moving and illuminating way. 

Su discussed some of the challenges of putting on Stupid Fucking Bird

“This is a significantly more rigorous play than Intersession shows we’ve done in the past,” she said. “It required a lot more of the actors.” 

Su had high praise for the actors. 

“I was so fortunate to have gotten the all-star cast that I did because they’ve put so much work and heart into this and I couldn’t be happier,” she said.

Winkelhoff noted that the play offered some challenging material for the Barnstormers, who have put on increasingly ambitious productions over the past several years. 

“We also have been having a really good couple of seasons the past few years, and we felt like now was the time to start experimenting/having fun with our space and capabilities,” Winkelhoff wrote in an email to The News-Letter

Su was very pleased with how the play had come together over the course of the past few weeks. 

“This play is so beautiful and striking and important. And my cast has done such a great job of bringing it to life every single night. I’m very proud,” she said. 

Winkelhoff discussed how the complexity of the play influenced the work done by the production team, including stage manager Shireen Guru.

“The show itself is a really difficult piece,” Winkelhoff wrote. “It breaks the fourth wall a decent amount, which is something we haven’t done in recent memory. Our actors worked tirelessly to get to know their characters, and our tech team is so incredibly dedicated and talented.”

Winkelhoff also highlighted the challenges of working in the Levering Theater.

“Arellano as a theater is dated and tech can be limited in their abilities for that, but after many meetings with our director and spending time in the space, everything worked better than I could have hoped,” she wrote. 

That success under challenging conditions was contingent on the hard work of the production staff and cast. 

“The flip side of these things is that because the show is so difficult, it allowed all of those involved to really spread their wings and come up with really creative solutions,” Winkelhoff wrote.

She described how Gladden learned the ukulele for a role and how lighting designers Laura Nugent and Monika Borkovic made some her favorite lighting cues she has worked with.

One unexpected aspect of the performance was the Freshman Formal taking place in the Glass Pavilion above Arellano Theater during the Saturday night performance. While the music from it could not be heard in the theater, the sound of pounding feet above was ever-present. 

After these student actors had been preparing and rehearsing through several weeks of hard work, it was unfortunate that the Formal could not have taken place on another date or venue. 

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