From The Stupid Fucking Bird Encore program
“Love, which seems the realest thing, is really nothing at all; a simple grey rock is a thousand times more tangible than love is; and the earth is such a rock, and love only a breeze that dreams over its surface, weightless and traceless, yet love’s more mineral, more dense, more veined with gold and corrupted with lead, more bitter and more weighty than the earth’s profoundest matter. Love is a sea of desire stretched between shores-only the shores are real, but how much more compelling is the sea. Love is the world’s infinite mutability; lies, hatred, murder even are all knit up in it; it is the inevitable blossoming of its opposites, a magnificent rose smelling faintly of blood. A dream which makes the world seem … an illusion. The art of illusion is the art of love, and the art of love is the blood-red heart of the world.” -from Tony Kushner’s adaptation of Corneille’s The Illusion
I am writing this at the end of one of the most intense, passionate, painful, beautiful weeks of rehearsal I have ever had. And all because some guy named Aaron Posner, contemplating his complex relationship with Chekhov, decided to write a variation on Chekhov’s The Seagull called Stupid Fucking Bird, and blew the doors open on a master that was for many people like theatre medicine.
In the original Seagull, Constantine desperately pursues a new form of theatre, as does his counterpart Conrad in Aaron Posner’s variation. And in fact, since time immemorial, passionate theatre artists have been interested in reinventing the art form, both to be new, to “shake up” what is established, but also to be better, to be revitalized and truly alive. And if it succeeds, the new form shocks the possible, it jolts the audience out of the rut of expectations to make something so raw and unexpected that it holds the mirror up to nature with a much more telling light. There is something about Stupid Fucking Bird that feels like Aaron Posner has reinvented the form, given us richer, better access to Chekhov, and even more importantly, to the characters who inhabit his world and ours. Aaron has, to quote the play, made a world “so different in feel, it might be realer than real’.
I’ve come to think of this play as a meta-theatrical love story, with all that that implies-both about what is “meta theatrical” ( you’ll see) and what is “love” (see Kushner’s quote above for the ways in which I mean love). But love stories, when they’re real, are the most compelling stories we tell, and we seem to need to keep telling them.
So I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am that the making of this play has been such an extraordinary and joyous love story. Somehow, Aaron Posner, standing on Chekhov’s profound text, has succeeded in making more three-dimensional than ever the human beings who breathe and sweat and labor upon the stage. I love these characters. These flawed, angst-ridden, neglected, seeking, needy, self- absorbed, passionate, yearning people. They are me. They are every love I’ve ever longed for and haven’t gotten. They are every crushed dream I’ve ever experienced as I’ve watched art fail. They are every time I’ve ever wondered, “Why go on?” They are in as much pain as I have been, their stakes are so high, their passions are so huge, they have to settle or suffer or conquer in ways that are both terrible and true.
But that experience only happens when you have the privilege of working with a glorious design team, a dedicated and invested theatre staff, and great actors of towering talent and huge generosity of spirit, smart, passionate, and giving, endlessly inventive and unafraid of going to the darkest places and owning the ugliest parts of themselves in the service of the story they’re telling.
So making this play has taken me, and perhaps all of us privileged enough to rehearse it, to the existential mountaintop. It’s a place that I don’t think any human being can stand to be for very long, because you see too much, you know too much to be able to tolerate that much reality. But while you’re there the experience is realer than real, and the vivid ness of the agony we’re in is both unbearable and revitalizing because it makes us k now we’re fully awake and alive.
For all of that, and for the privilege of sharing this experience with you, I am awed and grateful.