SALT LAKE CITY — People clap when cake comes out, but sometimes the lighter malfunctions. That is the theme of the superfluously wonderful Stupid F***king Bird, but it certainly does not describe the production. From the moment Latoya Cameron appears onstage, singing balefully with the accompaniment of her own ukulele and comparing how very miserable her character’s life is with that of the character played by Justin Ivie, I was deliriously delighted, and I think I have found my new favorite play. I’m dead serious.
The power and magic of truly great art—something that this deconstructed classic strives and succeeds in delivering—is that a person may just serendipitously see a piece that encapsulates exactly what they absolutely needed to see in a particular moment in their lives. Such was the case for me. The plight of these characters combined with the examination of human frailties, pitfalls, and yearnings was not only universal, but hit close to home while remaining frothy and farcical but never frivolous. Such is the beauty of the script that, having seen the source material (The Seagull by Anton Chekhov), I think the bristly Russian playwright would have been tickled by Aaron Posner’s script.
The best thing to say of the acting in a piece like this was that I barely noticed it. The cast was just people that happened to be standing in front of the audience, and that in itself takes an enormous amount of know-how. The skill and capability of each individual performer was apparent. Perhaps the most surprisingly captivating moment of the play for me was a soliloquy delivered by Morgan Lund as Sorn (by all accounts, a side character). He stands in the kitchen, making himself a vodka cocktail (booze+booze+cherry), and muses about his outlook on life as he nears the age of sixty. “I just want to be hugged,” he quips, summarizing the aches of age with the insouciant winks it allows. Lund is the kind of performer that makes me lean forward in my seat, hanging on his every word, however humorous or poignant they be.
Portraying mother and son, Alexis Baigue and Nell Gwynn were both fabulously funny and magnetic. Baigue’s spitfire monologue in which he questions how Nina could have possibly stopped loving him while a dead bird rests at his feet and he shrinks lower and lower to the ground—resembling a drowned rodent—was one of the most spectacular moments in the show, proving that the pathetic can be just as watchable as the blessed. While playing a primarily comedic role, Gwynn provided a plaintively earnest moment at the end of the second act where her character makes an entreaty for the heart of her lover, who is infatuated with a new shiny toy in the form of Nina, the young ingénue played gracefully by Anne Louise Brings.
The play is very self-aware, with actors addressing the audience directly, going so far as to require an answer back, but it stops short of being hackneyed or oh-so-terribly meta. There was an all-resounding feeling of truth behind everything, no matter the winks, nods, and outright references to Chekhov (a physical presence in the play, as his portrait hung on the stage left wall throughout). This phenomenon can be attributed to the script, but also to the direction of William Missouri Downs, who not only led his actors in a teasingly comedic and fast-paced fashion, but truly grasped the play’s purpose and voice. In his director’s note, he wrote, “Chekhov wrote about characters that stumble through life with little self-knowledge. Characters that more often than not have no idea what the hell they want and if they do they have no fu#@ing idea of how to achieve it. In this Chekhovian world, success and happy endings are chance events. And the only possible catharsis is laughter.”
This play does what it’s supposed to do. Everything is on point, and everything is as enlightening as it is entertaining. If I had one complaint, it’s that it wasn’t nearly long enough. I wanted more. And more. And more.
To quote the characters:
“How was the show?”
“It thwarted. It fucking thwarted.”