“Stupid Fucking Bird” at ACT

“Brush up your Shakespeare,
Start quoting him now…”

—Cole Porter, in
“Kiss Me Kate”
A modern take on “Taming of the Shrew”

Playwrite Aaron Posner takes Cole Porter’s advice in this play: Trig, a writer of some renown and twenty years her senior, quotes Hamlet to Nina, a seemingly naive young waif who he’s already acknowledged to possess “perfect breasts.” But Nina, perhaps not so naive as he (or we) think, throws the ploy back at him: no, it’s not the line he quoted but the line after that has been keeping her awake.
“Uh … mutter, mutter,” Trig mutters, “ … ah, ’tis a consummation devoutly to be wished?”
“Yes,” Nina agrees. “A … consummation.”
“Ah — oh!” Yes, Trig picks up on the double-entendre.
“Devoutly to be wished,” Nina emphasizes, and shortly presents Trig with those perfect breasts, live and on stage. (Dialog paraphrased.)
But never fear, reader, this is no fling with porn. Rather, Posner is taking his characters (and his audience) on a manic trip through the sad and tormented minds of seven very unhappy people, of whom Trig and Nina are merely the most oddly paired. But it’s nothing we haven’t seen before: Stupid Fucking Bird (the title foretelling the most commonly used word in the play) is a modern take (or update or retelling or whatever) of Anton Chekov’s “The Seagull,” which premiered in 1896. More broadly, character studies of this type show up regularly on stage and screen, dipping into the tortured minds of “artists” (actors, playwrites, authors, etc.) as though these are the most fertile fields for storytelling that the world has produced. Well, write what you know, I suppose; Posner does cop to identifying most with the play’s main character Con, who is the tortured playwrite son of famous actress Emma (who is Trig’s actual significant other, even though Trig pursues Nina, who is the love of Con’s life).
So … maybe it’s not just Shakespeare you need to brush up on before venturing to see Stupid Fucking Bird. You’ll also do well to brush up on 19th Century Russian literature and theatre; 20th Century theatre; Eye on Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight!, and the National Enquirer; and — heck, why not? Brush up on the kitchen sink (yeah, there’s one of those in there, too).
Thing is, there is so much in there that it’s easy to get lost. While there are moments — a lot of moments, to be fair — that are hilarious, or touching, or shocking, or … or … Well, there are also moments where you scratch your head and say, “Huh?” One particular moment has the entire cast rotating around the in-the-round stage, chanting at the audience about their feelings and motivations. While by then we are very much aware that the audience is being drafted into the production (audience members are actually asked questions and told that, yes, the cast sees every one of you), this particular sharing came across as unintelligible, with all seven characters talking at once.
Oh, I get it — they’re all tortured and nuts. But hey, the only writing maxim more famous than “write what you know” is, “show don’t tell.” The moment in question showed me nothing and told me nothing I didn’t already know. Get on with it.
To my relief, they did get on with it; and despite wondering just why the world needs another play about being in a play … despite a cast of characters who ranged from dispicable to unlikable to pitiable and back again … I did walk away from the show feeling entertained. It’s not the easy, mind-numbing entertainment of a Broadway musical or a TV sitcom; you have to work at it. A single viewing may not be enough to take it all in; it’s that complex. Still, even after a single viewing you will find something to like. In no way am I giving this production ‘the bird.’
ACT-Stupid Fucking Bird   084 copy 2

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