‘Stupid Fucking Bird’ is a Unique Fucking Experience

Left to Right: Duncan McIntyre, Doogin Brown, Katie Gilchrist, Amy Billroth-MacLurg, Brian Paulette, Robert Gibby Brand, and Heather Michele Lawler. Photography: Cynthia Levin

 

The Unicorn Theatre closes out 2017 with an entertaining, yet soul-obliterating art experiment that’s almost impossible to describe, let alone review. Actually, I think the play is a little bit dangerous; I can’t think of any other theatre in a five-state area that would have the guts (or ability) to pull this off.

NOTE: As a tip-of-the-hat to the way this play mangles so many rules, I will write my review in the same spirit.

The name of the play is Stupid Fucking Bird. It’s based on Anton Chekhov’s classic Russian play The Seagull. I have never seen The Seagull (because I never really wanted to), so I don’t know how it compares. I don’t think it’s much like this one, though.

The play itself is basically about a group of self-hating millennials (but really, is there any other kind?) spending a weekend with a group of self-hating Gen-Xers (but really, is there any other kind?). They are all full of intense angst about life and love, and they do things to each other that are really mean and absurd – just like how people really act (oh damn, I just got a joke that they made in the play).

This is a depressing play because nobody is getting what they think they need. One character sings about how life is pointless and cruel and all you do is suffer. But she sings it while playing a ukulele, so that makes you laugh.

That’s the thing about this play – it makes fun of itself and life and angst and theater and art, and it’s all loads of barbed fun. But by the time you think you know what’s going on, you are trapped and then your soul gets crushed. Just like the girl with the ukulele said, but you laughed at her.

The first meta-level of the play concerns the cast of actors (or whatever they are), who basically play themselves pretending to be other people. But they do not pretend that the audience isn’t there. They don’t employ the clever-y trick of “breaking the fourth wall,” because it was never there in the first place. At the very beginning, the cast comes out on stage and states that they will not do anything until someone in the audience shouts the phrase “Start the fucking play!” After that happens (however long it takes), then I think they start acting. But I’m not sure whether they were really acting or just pretending to act.

I’m fairly certain that the cast was well-chosen. That is, if they were actually acting. Doogin Brown, Heather Michele Lawler, Duncan McIntyre, and Amy Billroth-MacLurg play the millennials, which is interesting, because I’m pretty sure that they really are millennials. Then they made me wonder whether they, as real people, were going through real-life situations that were like the ones they were pretending to go through onstage. Anyway, they all did a very believable job of seeing the Gen-Xers as selfish, arrogant assholes.

Kansas City legends Katie Gilchrist (goddamn, I love Katie Gilchrist), Brian Paulette (ditto) and Robert Gibby Brand (sorry, Robert, I don’t know much about you because I hate A Christmas Carol) play the Gen-Xers, which is appropriate because they seem like real-life Gen-Xers; they aren’t pretending. They had a very authentic way of treating the millennials as if they were clueless, pathetic whiners. I related.

There are recurring themes and meta-themes (and meta-meta-themes?) that all fly around and through each other like a stupid fucking bird. It’s bewildering, and you can easily lose track of what you are supposed to be paying attention to. I can’t even imagine how the “actors” pulled it off. I must also note that this is the first time in my life that I, as an audience member, was seriously berated by a fictional character in a play. I mean, for real. That one millennial dude made a joke, and we laughed, and then he stopped the play and ripped off our heads for laughing at his fucking joke. I legit felt terrible. How does that even happen?

I usually know right as a play ends whether I’m going to give the performance a standing ovation or not. But the end of this play put me in a temporary existential brain-lock. By the time I realized I should stand up and clap, it was too late. Everybody was leaving.

Do not take your date to this play. Do not take the family you are entertaining over the holidays to this play. Take your philosophy professor. Or your theater professor. Or take the person who broke your heart and your will to live.

Regardless, if you are a daring sort who enjoys mental torture labyrinths that make you question what you are, then take yourself to this play.

If you go

Performances of Stupid Fucking Bird continue through Dec. 23 at the Unicorn Theatre, 3828 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. Tickets: unicorntheatre.org.