Aaron Posner loves his authors. He has since he was a kid in Eugene, Oregon, consuming every work by those writers who spoke to his particular understanding of the world: P.G. Wodehouse, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, J.D. Salinger, Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Maybe not every Dostoyevsky novel, but most, he tells me over the phone from Sarasota, Fla., where the playwright and director is currently workshopping—what else? a P.G. Wodehouse musical.
“When I find someone that I love, whether that is a friend or a partner or an author, I want to know them really well and I want to go deep,” he says. “That is probably why I spent multiple times in the world of various authors.”
At 52, Posner has made a name in American theater by inhabiting those worlds and inviting audiences in as well. His theatrical adaptations are so in fashion that it is not uncommon to find two of his plays being staged in the same city in the same season—for example, New York City, where his adaptation of The Seagull by Chekhov and his take on Chaim Potok’s 1972 novel My Name Is Asher Lev are both being staged. It happened in Sarasota, which in the months prior to our conversation hosted productions of those plays. And it is happening in Seattle, where those same two plays—Stupid Fucking Bird and My Name is Asher Lev—are being mounted by ACT and New Century Theatre Company, respectively.
Yet casual theatergoers hoping to string together a Posner Mini-Fest will be struck by how very different these works are. “They are two of the pieces that I am most proud of putting into the world,” Posner says. “But essentially they are different creatures.”
My Name is Asher Lev, which opens this weekend at 12th Avenue Arts, is true to the original text, which tells the story of a Hasidic Jewish artist whose calling is in conflict with his faith. “I entered into Chaim Potok’s world because I was asking questions about my Judaism and what I meant when I called myself Jewish back in my 30s,” Posner says.
Stupid Fucking Bird, ACT’s uproarious and moving production of which opened last weekend, is what Posner calls an “irreverent adaptation”—you might have guessed from the title. It is a delirious sendup of Chekhov, whose once-radical theatrics have become well-worn conventions. The only thing the play, which has a playful experimentalism at its core, has in common with Asher Lev is that Posner is able to see himself within it.
“I hate to say that it is an exploration of Chekhov, because it is as much an exploration of myself and how I live in relation to his world,” he says. “But, you know, his world is such the world of everyday life, of love and loss and hope and broken things. The first time I ever read him, it felt like a world I could deeply relate to.” E
ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., 292-7676, acttheatre.org. Ends May 8.
12th Avenue Arts, 1620 12th Ave., wearenctc.org. Ends May 21.
Aaron Posner will be in town for post-show discussions of both My Name Is Asher Lev (April 22) and Stupid Fucking Bird (April 23).