Saturday, May 20, 2017

Good theater and the meaning of life in Between the Lines' production of Stupid Fucking Bird

Posted By on Sat, May 20, 2017 at 1:45 PM

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Stupid Fucking Bird reminds me of one of the best Onion headlines in the history of the Onion: “‘I Can’t Do This Anymore,’ Think 320 million Americans Quietly Going About Day.” The play, which is a kind of remix and update to Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull, deals with existential crisis in a raw, heartbreaking and hilarious way. What’s the point of anything? Do we really just have to go on and on being disappointed, over and over again, until we die?

The play begins with Mash and Dev bickering over whose life is worse. “What are we, in a fucking Dickens novel?” Mash quips.

“And I'm unhappy in love,” Dev says. “I'm unhappy in love! I mean, you know I love you ridiculously and you, you know, barely tolerate me... But mostly I'm really, really poor.”
Over the course of three acts, this unhappiness becomes the foundation of a surprisingly fun experience.

Missoula's Between the Lines production of Stupid Fucking Bird doesn't squander the script. Directed by company founder Mason J. Wagner, the cast does an incredible job of taking the audience on an adventure that walks the line between tragedy and comedy. This is a play that takes a lot of risks, and in the beginning it’s easy to feel a little panicked that you’re going to be locked into two and half hours of super whiny characters doing a bunch of navel gazing. But the best part of Stupid Fucking Bird is that it both wallows in existential malaise and then, with comic brilliance, acknowledges the melodrama. There’s metaphor (the bird), there’s the breaking of the fourth wall, there’s a little audience participation, and there’s an entirely non-traditional ending that is neither a twist nor any kind of predictable catharsis.

It’s always worth seeing any local production featuring "E.T. Varney," whom most people will recognize as a prominent actor not named E.T. Varney. Varney's portrayal of Dr. Eugene Sorn is endearing. Part of the gimmick of Stupid Fucking Bird is that it’s self-referential, and characters constantly address the audience and make fun of the play. Sorn’s monologues are some of the best moments, and Varney is a natural at getting the audience on his side as he sips a cocktail and reflects on how emotional all the other characters are.

I’d love to provide some critique here, but the truth is that every actor is great in this production. I’m not going to mention them all because they all stand out as capturing multi-dimensional flawed, funny, desperate, selfish characters, but it’s definitely worth mentioning Nathan Snow, whose Conrad, the playwright within the play, is particularly well rendered as his frustration with love and theater forces him to take unsettling action. He so believes in a world where happiness and authenticity can happen, and Snow nails that character in all his sympathetic unraveling.

In the play's beginning, the dialogue and acting feel a bit stereotypically theater-y, but it isn’t long before the script and characters begin to upend the format. It’s a twisting, turning story, and it’s an investigation into despair and longing. There’s good music, and the audience never feels quite safe from the action and emotion on stage, since the dialogue often seems directed at the viewers, and the storyline often dissects itself. Stupid Fucking Bird is both a critique of theater and a love letter to it, and no one should miss a chance to see this production.

Stupid Fucking Bird continues at the Roxy Sat., May 20, at 7:30 PM and Sun., May 21, at 2 PM and 7:30 PM. $20.

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