There comes a time in the life of every artist where they realize that everything they have ever done is absolute shit. That they don’t have an inch of creativity in their body, and everything they have ever made is a poor recreation of someone else’s ideas.
That they either need to settle for what they have been given in life and know this is as good as it gets, or consider just going ahead and ending it. Those of us currently in the middle of one of these episodes, or who can remember being in the middle of it know how much it sucks. This play is the embodiment of the confusion that is that feeling.
That being said – it’s brilliant.
Stupid Fucking Bird is sort of a modern adaptation of Anton Chekov’s The Seagull. (Wait a minute, the half of you who just moved to close your browser window, yeah, I see you- first off, put a sticker over your webcam – you never know who is watching. Second, don’t judge a play by it’s inspiration – we all know Russian dramas are typically best taken napping hungover in the back of History of Theater class, but hear me out..) Although Chekov’s The Seagull is potentially best remembered by hungover theater students as “that one with the gun, I think?” (correct), and as being second to War and Peace for having a confusing number of characters and relationships that your hungover self didn’t give a crap about at 9am on a Monday, Stupid Fucking Bird is anything but boring. The play cuts down the characters to a far more manageable number (seven), cuts the love triangles to a far more manageable number (two), and cuts down the acts to a far more manageable three.
Although both plays are character pieces, while watching Stupid Fucking Bird, it did occur to me that each of the characters I was watching embodied a portion of the personalities you typically find in an artist (for better or worse). It may have occurred to the play as well – Stupid Fucking Bird as a script is as self aware as its protagonists. It tries to answer the question of why we make art, and is about as successful at answering as any other artist to whom you might ask that question. (It’s a really hard question, ok, and the answer changes- a lot – sometimes mid-project. And that’s ok.) Point being, it is a really important question for us to be asking, and Hampton Roads is ripe for that discussion. If we want to evolve and grow our performing arts community in this area, we are going to need to start taking a hard look at this question, and maybe start giving some uncomfortable answers. We will soon need to become just as self-aware as a community, or we risk the self-destructive spirals we see our characters embody.
The Generic Theater’s space can be a challenge for technical artists, and this play was no exception. Michael Zimmerman accepted that challenge as scenic designer and really surpassed what I have seen at the Generic these past few years, giving us an abstract “location” for acts one and three that thoughtfully transformed into a gigantic functioning kitchen for act two. Also, a quick kudos to the stage crew for managing to handle that transition within a reasonable intermission time. Those changes will only get faster and smoother as they go. Derrion Hawkins’ lighting did a great job of setting the location in the more abstract acts, as well as managing to look natural in the kitchen scenes. Abbey Ortiz, who did double duty as the Wardrobe Designer and the actress playing Mash, did a fantastic job putting everyone in an outfit that looked natural given their character’s personality. Hawkins was also responsible for the sound design, and his soundtrack was superb.
Stupid Fucking Bird really is an ensemble piece, and there is not a weak link on the chain for this show. Gregory Dragas stands out as Con, the protagonist who’s mental state slowly deteriorates over the course of the play as he loses everything important to him while struggling to create a new kind of performance art. Ortiz, who among her other skills also plays the ukulele, is hilariously pessimistic. Rashad Stukes, playing Dev, felt the most natural of everyone onstage, exuding an easy charm. Kathy Strouse is always fun to watch onstage. Emma (Con’s mother) is not an easy character to play, and she hits all the emotional notes perfectly. Every single person on that stage gives this play their all, it’s an emotional roller coaster of a show, and as a cast they take that ride together every step of the way. Jimmy Dragas picked a fantastic cast and crew for his directorial debut, and the hard work and dedication that they all put in shines through every scene.
A few words of warning for the “faint of heart” audience member: yes, this show has foul language. I personally curse like I worked in scenery shops for a decade (because I did, and desk job be damned, some habits die hard) so you have to work hard to offend me. If you don’t like the use of the word fuck, for example, this play might not be for you. (Though I hope the title of the show would have given that away for you.) It would be difficult to go into any more detail without giving away key points of the show which are best left to be discovered while watching it live, and I highly recommend that you do so before it closes. I double that recommendation for area artists.
Stupid Fucking Bird plays at the Generic Theater through September 16th, 2018. Get your tickets here. P.S. – In case you were counting, this article says the word fuck nine times, including in the title, and right here.