THEATRE REVIEW: Stupid F--king Bird is a bunch of f--king fun

By Maura Hogan for Charleston City Paper

Kyle Barnette (Trigorin) Beth Curley (Emma) and Laurens Wilson (Sorn) in SFB

Kyle Barnette (Trigorin) Beth Curley (Emma) and Laurens Wilson (Sorn) in SFB

You don't have to be a theater nerd to get the jokes in Stupid F--king Bird, but it for sure adds another layer to the laugh track. That's because playwright Aaron Posner's whip smart look at the dynamics of love is uncannily akin to the subject it explores. So it has plenty to offer those in a deeply committed relationship with performative art — as well as those who are just looking for a good time on a Saturday night. 

Directed by Erin Wilson for What If? Productions, this thoroughly modern, merrily deconstructed remake of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull cleverly folds in contemporary context to the Russian scribe's dramatic musings (and some live acoustic music to boot). It does so in ways that both address the state of the art form, while also poking a bit of lively fun at the age-old puzzler of a duo known as power and love.

To that end, Stupid F--king Bird makes exhaustive, inventive use of the black box in order to renovate and refresh the way we experience theater, though by its own admission makes no claims of a major rehaul. By this I mean that the play removes both the back wall to reveal actors offstage and the "fourth wall" between audience and actor, with performers regularly tossing questions our way (Don't worry: You don't have to answer them). To whit: As we watch characters pine away with sound and fury downstage, we also see others idling mutely at their dressing tables awaiting their next scene.

Think of it as a bit of artistic gentrification, wherein a trendy young couple blithely knocks down parts of a 19th-century house to create a spiffy new open plan. Even its title takes a swipe at the somewhat mournful majesty of the play's central symbol, the seagull, dropping the f-bomb in glib, eye-rolling dismissal at the weight it holds for its lovelorn characters. 

And that makes perfect sense for updating a play set on a Russian country estate and surrounding the imbalanced romances of a hodgepodge of artists. True to the Chekhovian bent, the fine cast can each range from the stately to the ridiculous, whether they are stealing furtive glances at the unrequited object of their affection or waxing suicidal when solidly dumped. 

At the home of Sorn (ably played by Laurens Wilson), we encounter a young couple: the hapless, lovestruck Dev (Darryl LaPlante with signature, shaggy dog charm) and his guitar-strumming, Boho gal Mash (the terrific Bess Lawson). We quickly glean that Dev is way more into Mash than the other way around. Why is that? She's too distracted by the young director Con (the engaging James Ketelaar).

But wait: The plot and pining both thicken with the interplay between Con and his leading lady/paramour Nina (played with sweet appeal by Sarah Callahan Black). In rehearsal, they are well into laying an egg of a outré manqué play. From there, enter the celeb writer Tigorin (a suitably self-satisfied and commanding Kyle Barnette) and his lover Emma, the imperiously cold theatrical grand dame who is also Con's mother (played with convincing matter-of-fact disdain by Beth Curley). 

As the scales of love and longing tip and teeter, Posner's rollicking, antic redo demonstrates that nothing has really changed. Pairing off in romance remains a faulty proposition best served with a sigh and a smirk. 

After all, today's theater can be equally woefully one-sided. Sitting in spotty audience houses on a regular basis, the true believers can't help but rue why this time-tested cracking of the human condition doesn't regularly get its due in box office receipts or broad acclaim. 

Because, guess what? Like unreciprocated love, today's theater maker cannot count on getting those raves that are due. That payback more often lands in the lap of the sorts of Con's pragmatic, ego-powered mother, who unapologetically strong arms her way when making love and making art. 

But never mind all that. Just go see Stupid F--king Bird. Indulge in a few hearty, commitment-free laughs. While you're at it, dabble in a bit of superior thinking as put forth by an energized, excellent troupe of actors. It won't hurt a bit. And no one will expect you to call them the next day, I promise.


A String Between man & the world wins best new work at 2017 Playwrights festival

 From over 225 submissions to their 6th annual Playwrights Festival and competition What If? Productions, with the help of the staged-reading voting audience this weekend, selected Paige Zubel’s one-man show A String Between Man & the World as the winner of Best New Work of the festival. 

Zubel’s electrifying and surreal play about a man appealing for his release from a mental facility, complete with wild conspiracy theories possible time-travel, was selected from a competitive final field of three intriguing and well-written plays that were narrowed down by the What If? jury of local Charleston artists. As the winning playwright Zubel, a Philadelphia-based artist, will have the opportunity to see her new work receive its world premiere at the theatre’s 2018 festival, set to be moved to September of next year. 

Pictured: Paige Zubel

2017 Playwrights Festival Finalists Announced

After over 225 submissions from all over the East Coast and South East, our esteemed jury of eight Charleston artists have narrowed down the competitive field to just three fabulous finalist which will receive partial staged readings of their works at our 6th annual Playwrights Festival on Saturday June 24th. One of these three works will win the chance of having their play receive its world premiere at our 2018 Play Festival next year. 

A String Between Man & The World
by Paige Zubel

The Playwright: 
Paige Zubel is a recent graduate of the University of Houston where she received her BFA in Playwriting and Dramaturgy. She is an internationally produced playwright, with notable productions in her hometown of Houston, TX ($12.50/Hour, Sunday Flowers), New York City (In Full Bloom, Gel Us, The Pull of the Moon), and Scotland (Under Covers). Her plays and prose have been published through One Act Play Depot, Every Day Fiction, and Hashtag Queer. She is currently a Literary Intern at InterAct Theatre in Philadelphia, PA. See more at

The Play:
Miles Alloway appeals for his release from a mental health facility to a board of unseen doctors (the audience). He claims his admittance to the facility was all one big misunderstanding; he's not really crazy. His story of how he came to be there grows wilder and wilder, from timelines that don't add up, to government conspiracy theories, to a revelation on God himself. Ultimately, unbelieved, Miles breaks. We're left wondering if he really is insane or if maybe--just maybe--everything he said could be true. 

Mrs. Harrison
by R. Eric Thomas

The Playwright:
R. Eric Thomas is an award-winning playwright, humorist and the long-running host of The Moth in Philadelphia. His most recent play, Time Is On Our Side, was the recipient of two Barrymore Awards including Best New Play and was named a finalist for the Harold and Mimi Steinberg American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award. He writes a daily humor column for in which he “reads” the news. In addition to and ELLE magazine, his writing has appeared in the New York Times, W Magazine, Man Repeller, Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Magazine and more. 

The Play:
Mrs. Harrison is about two women and one story. At their 10-year college reunion, Aisha and Holly meet by chance. Is this the first time or has it just been a long time. They can't agree. Aisha is a black, successful playwright; she's on the cover of the alumni magazine. Holly is a white, struggling stand-up comedian; she's here for the free drinks. They both have a story that they've been telling themselves about what happened all those years ago and they're both willing to fight for the truth in the present.

Giant Box of Porn
by Patrick Flynn

The Playwright:
Patrick Flynn is an award-winning filmmaker, playwright, and webseries creator based in Washington, D.C. His series I Live With This won Outstanding Series and Outstanding Writing at the 2012 L.A. Webfest. His series Long Distance Relationship took home Bronze at the 2016 TIVA-DC Peer Awards. The Capitol Fringe production of his play Giant Box of Porn was hailed by The Washington PostWashington City Paper, and was named “Best of Fringe” by DC Metro Theatre Arts. His plays have been part of the DC Source Festival, the Kennedy Center’s Page-to-Stage Festival, Bethesda Play-in-a-Day, DC One-Minute Play Festival, and New York Fringe. He is a 10-year veteran of the 48 Hour Film Project and has received several awards including Best Film for his short For Whom the Whistle Blows. His first book Visual Literacy: A Practical Text on the Analysis, History, and Creation of Visual Media is available from Kendall-Hunt. He is a professor at American University’s School of Communication and host of a podcast about original cast albums called The Original Cast available on iTunes.

The Play:
Young couple Ron and Kate return home to find a giant box of porn in their living room. This comedy explores life’s most important questions: What kind of burglar breaks in and leaves porn? Is it okay to buy baby paraphernalia just because it’s on sale? And, most importantly, who still has a VHS player? 




    What If? Productions will holding auditions for a few roles in two of our 2017 - 18 season shows The Legend of Georgia McBride and Stupid Fucking Bird on Monday May 15th and Tuesday May 16th.  We will also be holding auditions for future performances of our popular Piano Bar Series

    New to town or never auditioned for What If?:
    No problem! We encourage and welcome new talent and hope you will come check us out so we can see what you have to offer. First time audtionees will need to sign up for a timeslot on the first day, Monday May 15th. See below for details...


    The Legend of Georgia McBride
    (rehearsals being August 5. Show dates Sept 1 - 16)

    Rexy/Jason (Male age 25 - 40: All ethnicities)
    Rexy: bitchy in a mean way, but very funny; feisty and sharp-tongued with a dark past; a fairly trashy gal who fancies herself the most sophisticated in the room; thrives on conflict and is a bit of a hot mess, but she has great respect for the history and art of drag. Jason: the sweet best friend of Jo and Casey who also happens to be their landlord

    Eddie:  (Male age 40 - 60: All ethnicities)
    The easily flustered, hot-headed owner of a struggling dive bar; a bit rough around the edges; still longing for the dimly remembered glory days of high school; cousin to Tracey.

    Stupid Fucking Bird
    (rehearsals begin Feb. 17, 2018. Show dates March 16 - 31, 2018)

    Doyle Trigorin: (Male age 30 - 50: All ethnicities)
    Dashingly handsome, famous author and lover to Emma

    Dev: (Male age 20 - 35: All ethnicities)
    Down to earth, best friend to Conrad and in love with Mash

    Dr. Sorn (Male age 50 - 70: All ethnicities)
    Close family friend of Emma and Conrad

    Piano Bar Series
    (Dec. 8 - 23 and various times throughout the year)

    We will also be holding vocal auditions for potential soloists for our upcoming lineup of our new and popular Piano Bar Series. Audtionees will need to perform a solo cabaret style song and provide sheet music upon arrival. Strong, confident soloists only, please! 


    City Paper throws some love at What If? in year-end theatre review

    The Year in Charleston Theatre
    by Maura Hogan for Charleston City Paper

    Bloodiest Good Fun

    With a splatter zone for fake blood, a goofy, talking moosehead, and amped-to-11, made-for-mayhem musical numbers, Evil Dead: The Musical served up a deliriously hot mess of a Halloween offering from What If? Productions, in partnership with Threshold Rep. This ever-so-silly send up of the B horror movie was full-tilt, unapologetic fun. Is that so wrong?

    Best Mess With Your Head

    I have to call another toss-up for this one. What If? Productions' fourth-wall smashingRoger & Tom took aim at its own black box form, and had a high old time doing so. Over at PURE, Constellations went astral on us, breaking through our own dimension in a barrage of alternate universes, which offered strange, transcendent comfort as it exploded my head.

    Read full article HERE