Unrequited affection, a tortured artist, a dysfunctional family—seemingly the ingredients for just another cliched story. However, the Pierce College Theatre Department’s production of Aaron Posner’s Stupid Fucking Bird is absolutely anything but.
The first sign came in the minutes before the opening act when the cast members took to the stage, performing stretches and vocal warmups while intermittently (and perhaps ironically) chirping like birds. As the cast zip, zap and zopped with each other in the center of the stage, the audience was told over the intercom to take their seats and prepare for the show.
Funny… it seemed like it had already begun.
But, with absolute seriousness, the cast turned to the seated viewers, and the play’s central character Con, played by Jon Michael Villagomez, spoke to the audience, “The play will begin when someone says, ‘Start the fucking play.’”
Such a candid and crude prompt effectively set the tone for the rest of the play.
The play takes place on the grounds of a lakefront home, and opens with Dev (Trevor Alkazian) and Mash (Monica Vigil) comparing the perceived sorry state of their lives. Mash is a quintessential goth; she dresses completely in black and laments defeatedly about her unhappy life while deriding Dev’s professed hopefulness in the face of his own troubles. Dev mentions to Mash, almost in passing, that he “loves her ridiculously.”
It is revealed in this scene that Con is staging a “performance event” with Nina (Meagan Truxal). Dev expresses, somewhat enviously, that it is nice that Con and Nina get to share that experience with each other. The thought noticeably agitates Mash, who is in love with Con. She drives Dev away after rebuffing his romantic interest in her before ending the scene by serenading the audience on a ukulele with a song that reiterates her bleak view of life.
Con and Nina prepare a showing of his piece for Con’s mother Emma (Justine Brandy), a famous actress, her lover and famed author Trigoran (Josh T. Ryan), and Con’s uncle Dr. Sorn (Matt DeHaven). Con is completely infatuated with Nina, who he regards as his muse, but she idolizes Trigoran, much to Con’s jealousy.
Con’s performance event is derailed by Emma’s criticism; she feels that the piece derides her body of work. Con is deflated and retreats from the stage, wondering in a later scene if his mother hates him. He reveals his desire to further a new form of meaningful, “real” theatre that actually changes the hearts and minds of those who view it—a reflection of “Stupid Fucking Bird’s” overarching theme.
It is Con’s gradual spiral into complete despair that causes both the audience and characters to contemplate the meaning of life, love and art when they all appear to be at their most unfair and fruitless.
Though the plot is heavy with the sometimes disjointed and depressing philosophies of the cast, each and every actor brings their character to life through palpable sadness and more than a little silliness.
Vigil and Alkazian portray their characters as great counterpoints to one another—Vigil’s body language and tone of voice very clearly conveys Mash’s dreary attitude, whereas Alkazian’s inflections and relative goofiness shows that glimmer of hope that Dev claims to possess.
Villagomez, as the tortured artist Con, has a fantastic way of expressing the layers of his character’s sorrow. When he shares a scene with Dev, Dr. Sorn or Emma, he comes across as a sarcastic, bitter jerk. But when he’s faced with Truxal’s Nina, all of his rage and frustration seems to fade away, and the quivers in his voice let the audience know just how vulnerable he is.
Brandy gives Emma an intriguingly flippant personality; one of a mother whose matronly side has been spoiled by alcohol and fame. She and Villagomez share fantastic chemistry in one scene—Con falls sobbing into his mother’s arms, and, in that one heartfelt moment, both characters somehow seem a little less miserable than they do throughout the rest of the play.
However, the immense talent of the cast couldn’t help the play’s metatheatrical goal get off of the ground. The play’s first act is heavy with exposition and stream-of-consciousness which, though delivered with palpable emotion, doesn’t string together a coherent argument or thought for the audience to latch onto. The characters’ feelings regarding love, life and art are heartfelt, but are not groundbreaking or particularly intellectualized, and no amount of fourth-wall breaks can engross the audience enough to see passed that.
The play isn’t as poignant as it would like itself to be, but the fault lies in Posner’s writing. And, while the Pierce cast members might not help the play find the brain it wishes it had, they certainly do give it a great deal of heart.
“Stupid F**cking Bird” runs through Oct. 29 at the Pierce College Dow Arena Theatre. Tickets are available through www.brownpapertickets.com.