Review: STUPID FUCKING BIRD at Unicorn Theatre Review: STUPID FUCKING BIRD at Unicorn Theatre
A Chekhov adaptation it is, but the actors routinely flip the bird at a photo of the great playwright that makes its way around... Review: STUPID FUCKING BIRD at Unicorn Theatre

Pictured: Doogin Brown and Amy Billroth-MacLurg. Photo by Cynthia Levin. 

By Jason Epperson

In Aaron Posner’s “sort of adaptation” of Chekhov’s THE SEAGULL the young aspiring director Conrad (Doogin Brown) rages against establishment theater with a site-specific performance piece performed in his aging actress mother Emma’s (Katie Gilchrist) backyard, performed by his muse girlfriend Nina (Amy Billroth-MacLurg). It’s predictably terrible, but also full of truth. Emma dismisses it as child’s play in an interruption before it’s over. Thankfully. Nobody needs to sit through a site-specific performance piece that is decidedly “not a play” about where we are (“are you here?” is the common refrain).

Or do we? Posner’s play is not-so-secretly itself a site-specific performance piece. The clues begin when you enter the theater — the work lights are on. The actors walk out and say “the fucking play will start when someone says ‘start the fucking play.'” It’s a play that takes place on a set in a theater in front of an audience. We don’t need to pretend we’re somewhere else. We are here. A Chekhov adaptation it is, but the actors routinely flip the bird at a photo of the great playwright that makes its way around the stage. They converse with the audience. What SPACEBALLS is to STAR WARS, STUPID FUCKING BIRD is to THE SEAGULL and Chekhov. Except you don’t need to know a thing about Chekhov, and it’s not just a spoof. It’s funny as hell, but deeply dark. And most importantly, constantly true. Perhaps its more of a self-observant parody/condemnation/love letter to the theater as a whole, or even art and storytelling than some strictly Chekhovian exercise.

If you’re getting the idea that this play is difficult to describe, it is. But that’s what makes it good. So very very good. It’s as if Posner wrote a play where he also put every single self-conscious thought about what people might think of that play on stage. But through all the meta layers of self-observation, STUPID FUCKING BIRD actually has an uncommonly well-told plot. One that touches on aging and the true complexity of relationships. Who hasn’t loved someone who loves someone else, who loves someone else in a chain that just makes everyone depressed? Who’s children don’t get on their nerves from time to time (or more frequently)? Who doesn’t have regrets? Who hasn’t settled for something that wasn’t what they thought they wanted, but is most certainly what they need? In a particularly stirring turn, Sorn (Robert Gibby Brand), the aging doctor brother of Emma and uncle to Conrad, hitherto happy-go-lucky, describes what it is to ask every day why he goes through with it. While brushing his teeth, “why do I continue?”

The whole thing, in fact, is a treatise on depression as much as it’s about the state of the theater. It’s hilarious, but not afraid to go to the deep dark places that, frankly, had my wife and I rushing to Sonic afterward to shake it off and eat our feelings. I wondered if it needed to go that dark, but it works. It’s all just so true. Every moment of this piece is a deeply truthful observation, and I’m sure 5 or 6 hit each audience member in different yet powerful ways.

Director Theodore Swetz’s cast is quite solid, and the entire design serves the piece well. Some of the blocking feels a little unmotivated, but this piece is so smart, it had me wondering if that was a comment unto itself.

Where are we? Where are you? Are you here? Hell if I know. But I know that STUPID FUCKING BIRD will leave you in stitches, and looking in the mirror.

STUPID FUCKING BIRD runs through December 23rd. For more information visit unicorntheatre.org.

Jason Epperson

Jason is a producer, manager, and designer with 17 years of experience in Chicago, New York, and in the touring market. In 2015, he founded Lotus Theatricals - the publisher of Performink, and an independent commercial producing company - with Abigail Trabue.

  • Jessie Salsbury

    December 24, 2017 #1 Author

    This is a great review. My review on my blog is much more irreverent and snarky because I just couldn’t get my head around it. I just got the feeling we were watching something akin to Our Town – an entirely new way of doing the thing that will eventually be more common. It’s the show The Unicorn had to do. It’s 100% them.

    Reply

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