All Along the Fourth Wall

sideshow theatre’s stupid f*cking bird @ victory garden theatre, 21 september 2014.

Sideshow Theatre Stupid F*cking Bird
Looking out, looking in, across the fourth wall: the cast of Stupid F*cking Bird.

Aaron Posner’s wonderfully quirky adaptation-remix of Chekov’s The Seagull broke the fourth wall into smithereens. This was nothing unusual for modern theater. What was strange was how it did so: from the outside in.

Rather than break out from the fictional proceedings onstage to address the audience directly, as in classic theatrical fashion, the actors in Stupid F*cking Bird kept finding themselves on the audience’s side, looking in at Chekov’s play. It was as if they were watching themselves in the play.

This was a break in, not a break out in that the actors continually blasted holes in, not out, to the proceedings on stage. Or sometimes they even seemed to tunnel under the fourth wall, inviting us to follow them into the muck below, through the sewers that flow beneath Chekov’s masterpiece, in its veins. Instead of pushing theatricality toward reality, they eventually smuggled us in to the inner sanctum: the heart of The Seagull, that stupid f*cking bird.

Then again, since The Seagull itself features a play-within-a-play, Stupid F*cking Bird in one sense simply added another level: we were not really breaking through anything here, but rather witnessing an additive layering to Chekov’s already multilayered drama. In other words, in  Stupid F*cking Bird, we got a “play-within-a-play-within-a-play,” or, perhaps more accurately, a “play-without-a-play-within-a-play.”

But because this layering moved so fantastically, so ridiculously, so startlingly across the fourth wall (even through improvisation and direct audience interaction at moments), the question of where we were exactly in these many levels of fiction and reality hurtled us toward the original play itself as much as away from it into our own lives.

Or another way of understanding Posner’s adaption could be this: what  Stupid F*cking Bird did most of all was not to bring us through or under the fourth wall (from whatever direction). It was not to create plays within or without plays so much as to play, daringly, all along the fourth wall itself. Its actors balanced themselves—and us—precariously atop the crumbling masonry, perched on it to see inside and out at the same time as they fired Chekov’s troubling questions about authenticity, self-knowledge, love, and reality itself across the ramparts, proving them sturdy and illusory all in one shot.

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