From Russia, With Despair, Self-Loathing and Love

FEIFFER: Thank you. I appreciated the ways in which you did the same, especially the ways in which the characters relate directly to the audience. That felt very Chekhovian to me: They’re so lonely and desperate, they’re even trying to get these strangers to understand them.

Chekhov’s characters, as written, are white and seemingly straight. Both of you have complicated that, writing and casting in a way that expands how the plays depict race, gender and sexuality.

FEIFFER: It’s a question we dealt with of course very early on in casting the production at Williamstown [Theater Festival in Williamstown, Mass.] two years ago. We wanted to cast a diverse group of people for this play, not only because representation is, of course, important, but also because if we want to illuminate how universal this story is, it only makes sense that we have an inclusive ensemble so that everyone can see someone to whom they relate.

And Aaron, you made some interventions. I don’t think Vanya had a lesbian character originally.

POSNER: No, right, I don’t think so. The character Waffles became Pickles. My wife’s idea, actually.

FEIFFER: I love Pickles. I love that she’s queer. I love that her queerness is never commented on. I love her monologue about lost love. I related to her deeply, felt frustrated by her and uplifted by her all at once.

Were you nervous about how audiences would respond to your plays?

FEIFFER: No. I don’t care about that. I knew certain people would not respond to this take, would misinterpret it as irreverent, would find it offensive. They’re allowed to. I literally held the door open at Williamstown for people as they walked out. In a way it’s sort of exciting to piss people off — it means we may be doing something right. Tom Sadoski, who played Andrey in Williamstown, said to me, “We’re like the Sex Pistols!”

POSNER: One thing I am very proud of is that I have been writing the plays I believe in, saying the things I want to say and not worrying too much what people think. It’s why I kept the title “Stupid _______ Bird” and chose “Life Sucks.” I didn’t want people thinking it was going to be quiet and Chekhovian.


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