Stupid Fucking Bird

She Said

Tonight’s Agenda:  Stupid F%#@ing  Bird at the Gerding Theater

Highlights:

If Stupid F%&#ing Bird were a song and not a play, the lyrics would be: “You can’t always get what you want.  But if you try sometime-you might find-you get what you need.” Or do you?  This is one of the many ponderings the audience grapples with at the conclusion of Stupid F@#$ing Bird.  Come to think of it, my husband has been humming that song a lot lately—maybe too often.  Hmmm.  Anyway, in Stupid F*&%ing Bird none of the characters seem to get what they really want.  None are completely living the lives they imagined or hoped for, leading to disappointment and even desperation.

It was surprising to me that this fresh and relevant play was actually an adaptation of the 1890’s play, “The Seagull,” by Anton Chekhov.  I have never seen “The Seagull,”  but after tonight’s performance, it will be on my “Must Do” list.  Whether you have or have not seen the original play does not matter.  Stupid F%$#ing Bird stands up just fine on its own.  Ostensively, this is a story of unrequited love between a young and idealistic playwright named, Con, played by Ian Holcomb, and the object of his desire, Nina (Katie deBuys),  an aspiring actress. But Nina is infatuated  with  dashing writer, Doyle (Cody Nickell), who is the boyfriend of Con’s mother, Emma (Kate Eastwood Norris), an aging actress. There is a forlorn  cook, Mash(Kimberly Gilbert), secretly pining for Con, but has the affections of Con’s best friend, Dev (Darius Pierce). Good old Uncle Sorn—a doctor and Emma’s brother(Charles Leggett)—is also tossed into the mix of this rollicking cast where every player delivers an affecting performance.

However, this story unrequited love is really a metaphor of the unfulfilled dreams, disappointments, and losses everyone encounters throughout the entire life span, from the idealism of youth to the resignation of adulthood.  Even the wise and gentle Dr. Sorn questions the authenticity of his life as his end nears.  This play has universal appeal because its existential themes touch on universal quests for success, love, and a meaningful life.  It dares to inform the audience that no one escapes life’s wrath, no matter who you are or what you believe in.  

I suppose one could interpret these characters as self-absorbed or even narcissistic, but doesn’t  personhood always involve some self analysis?  This play beckons the viewer to look at their expectations, desires,  and dreams and asks how to reconcile these with the realities of living, while still arriving at some meaningful place in one’s existence.  Heavy stuff. Yet amongst the angst and drama, this are moments of great humor.  Characters Emma and Dr. Sorn are hilarious.  Throughout the performance there are wonderful little ditties song by characters, Mash and Dev, that lend further humor and insight to the story.  There is also some audience interaction which, usually, I find annoying.  But here it works quite well because of the improvisation skills of character, Con, who brings a sense of fun.

This is a long performance, lasting over two hours, but there are two intermissions to stretch out and the Gerding Theater at the Armory is a wonderful venue,  with its comfortable chairs and excellent sound system. This may be my favorite theater in town. The Armory, originally built in 1891, used to be a military drilling site.  After decades of disrepair, it was renovated and  became the Gerding Theater in 2006.

He Said

When I was in college my roommate was a Russian studies major, and yes, there was a job for him with that degree. He is currently a professor. But as a result of that influence I read most of the classics of Russian literature. I still remember discussing  Crime and Punishment  in the tower of  Deady Hall.  A perfect place to talk of axe murders and 19th century Russian society.  I never did get around to Chekhov since I usually do not enjoy reading plays and navigators do not make good playwrights.

Stupid Fucking Bird (Henceforth SFB)  is loosely based on Chekhov’s *The Seagull*, although I have no idea how tightly the original is woven into SFB. I will say that now that I have seen SFB,  The Seagull is now a must see, if for no reason than to see the origins of this most excellent play.

This is the kind of play that stays in your thoughts for days after a viewing, thinking about the characters and the ideas in the play.

I have an ongoing semi-joke with my kids that all art is some version, literally or metaphorically, of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back.  There are no original subjects in art, only original executions. It is not what the art says, but how it is said that often makes it great. So when asked what is SAB about, I would answer boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy has a near psychotic breakdown and tries to lose himself in art and alcohol, the Russian version of boy gets girl back. Don’t expect anything Russian, even distantly related to Russia, to end on a happy note. There is a good reason there has never been a Russian Comedy Festival.

So while the plot is not particularly original, who cares? Outside of thrillers and mysteries, they plot isn’t that important. It is the ideas in the play and the language used that is clever and  witty;  presented and performed with excellent acting and compelling staging.

Unrequited love.
The meaning of art.
The purpose of theater.
Human motivation.
Youth vrs Age.
Lust or Love.
Life or Death.
The meaning of life.

You know, the timeless basics of the human condition. If your late night college discussions were edited into a play by a much older, wiser, and far more clever and sober person, this might be the play. I am of an age, 56, where there are few ideas I have not heard before. But this play, with comedy and tragedy in equal proportions, presents these basic ideas with wit and powerful acting.

I found myself thinking back on the play, its scenes, the acting,  and ideas for days after the viewing. Rare in a time when most of what passes for art is disposable.

SFB is playing through March 27th at the Portland Center Stage by The Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.  Go.

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