Arts+Movies » Features

What If? Production's Stupid Fucking Bird examines love — or something like it

Take Flight

by

comment

You may have seen the trailers, just released within the past week, of the upcoming Michael Mayer film The Seagull, starring Saoirse Ronan (most recently of Lady Bird acclaim), Elizabeth Moss, and Annette Bening. The film is based on prolific Russian playwright Anton Chekov's 1896 play of the same name. From the two minute trailer, it appears to be a period piece, both whimsical and dark, comical and heartbreaking. It's a bit like its namesake, silly and trifling while representative of a greater beauty, a reverential peace: the sea. It's a seagull, and it's also a stupid fucking bird.

"It's really, at its most base, the famous tale: boy loves girl, girl doesn't love boy, girl loves other boy. It's a lot of stories," says Stupid Fucking Bird director Erin Wilson. "It's about a young playwright, who is idealistic and wants to change the world and wants art to make everyone change. His mother is this famous actress, old school theater. There's this love for her ... well there's love everywhere."

Stupid Fucking Bird is playwright Aaron Posner's contemporary adaptation of Chekov's play, at once both representative of the source material, and a work of art all its own.

"It's super contemporary ... hyper contemporary," laughs actor James Ketelaar. Ketelaar, who plays lovesick young playwright Conrad, "Con," says that every character breaks the fourth wall, pulling an Office-like grimace towards the audience. Sound meta? It is, but Ketelaar insists that while the characters are aware that they are characters, playing assigned roles, existing in a predetermined realm, there's still a basic connection between the actors and the audience.

"Honestly I think the play makes it pretty easy," says Ketelaar. "A lot of the breaks to the audience are like 'I'm sad and this is why, do you get it?'"

Wilson concurs, "These people couldn't be more clear. It's about people, it's about relationships. I think regardless of how aware the audience is of this meta theatrical thing you almost immediately buy into who these people are, and you become fascinated by these relationships. They clumsily deal with the problems that face them, with all the passion they could possibly muster. It's pretty easy to start rooting for them."

You may root for young Conrad, who is in love with the bewitching Nina, who is in love with the older, famous novelist Trig, who is the love interest of Con's mother, Emma. It's a mess of heartbreak and unrequited yearning, a web of twisted and tangled misunderstanding. But it's funny, too.

Ketelaar compares the production to the dark comedy FX series, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. For those who have not treated themselves to this insanely irreverent delight, it's essentially a show where every character has few to zero redeemable qualities, and every character has determined that they are, in fact, destined for greatness. From just barely running a dive bar to unsuccesfully flipping houses to venturing into every brand of Ponzi scheme, the "gang" of friends seek out love and fortune in each 30-minute episode, falling laughably short time and again. They are their own worst enemies.

"All these characters [in Stupid Fucking Bird] are miserable, and it's where the drama and the comedy come from in this show ... the characters in this aren't monsters like they are in Always Sunny, they're much more likable, but it's that same idea of watching these miserable people with lives they keep screwing up and on the one hand you really want them to succeed but on the other hand you laugh and think 'haha, at least that's not me.'"

"They're so miserable but they're so self-aware," says Wilson. "It's comedy 101 — all comedy is suffering."

Both the Chekov-educated audience member and the uninitiated will most likely glean from the get-go that a play with "fucking" in the title probably won't have a happy ending. But that's no reason to despair.

"There will always be that smart person in the audience who will say 'oh ha, yes, that's my favorite [Chekov] joke," says Wilson. "And then there's the person who knows nothing about the background and becomes intrigued and fascinated by the story, a wacky twisted love story."

Add a comment