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Stupid F*cking Bird Is A Foul-Mouthed Emotional Release

This “sort of adaptation” of Chekhov’s The Seagull simultaneously embraces the original while giving it the bird. 

by Ben Boddez

It might be based on a timeless classic written in 1895, but as you might have guessed from the title, one of the main characters in the Cultch’s production of Stupid Fucking Bird utters the titular expletive a total of 86 times. Described as “sort of adapted” from Chekhov’s The Seagull, the play originally written by Aaron Posner aims to update Chekhov’s tragicomedy full of unrequited love and unrealized ambitions for a modern audience – not to mention both breaking the fourth wall and making things a little more musical.

Now in the hands of The Search Party, a Vancouver-based theatre company that’s been racking up accolades as of late, director Mindy Parfitt and musical director Anton Lipovetsky – who also acts in the show – are hard at work to extract the humour out of some darker subject matter to deliver a play that’s about as cathartic as cursing up a storm. The Seagull itself was originally envisioned as a comedy, but it was often staged as the opposite.

“I think the characters use humour to help survive the awful tragedies of their lives,” says Lipovetsky. “But I think the play is also written in this really fun and contemporary way – it’s not the old-fashioned language of the classics, it comes across as fun and witty.”

“I think the characters use humour to help survive the awful tragedies of their lives.”

Parfitt was initially drawn to the script due to her attitude towards always venturing into new and unfamiliar territory as a director, something that Stupid Fucking Bird provided in a variety of ways. She was recently coming off of a production of The Father – a small, self-contained play about an elderly man struggling with dementia that ultimately landed Anthony Hopkins an Oscar in the movie adaptation – and was interested in switching things up to work with a larger cast composed of younger people. The open-ended nature of Posner’s script proved even more intriguing.

“I was interested in how to manifest the Chekhovian period visually in a contemporary space – the tension between those two, and also how to bring the playfulness of the piece into the visual world,” Parfitt says. “[Posner] left a lot of discrepancy about what each space could be – for example, the second act could be a full-fledged kitchen or not. Full-on box sets aren’t really my thing, so I was interested in creating different spaces without building a wall, bringing in bridges, that kind of stuff.”

The discrepancies in the script also extend themselves to the dialogue. Parfitt mentions a variety of asterisks in the script, left in order to insert jokes prudent to the location of the performance or keep the play’s modernization no matter what era it is performed in – The Search Party replaced the original’s reference to “outdated” bell bottom jeans in the midst of their resurgence in popularity, for example. Parfitt took full advantage of these, not only to make the jokes more topical, but also to extract the drama out of some more important modern issues as well.

“We’ve had some really interesting conversations about how female sexuality is portrayed.”

“We’ve had some really interesting conversations about how female sexuality is portrayed,” she says. “There’s a man who has an affair with a woman who is younger than him, and the woman is often seen as the ‘evil’ person in that scenario. We talked about grooming, and the man’s power, economic status, and celebrity. There are always ways that you’re able to make a play your own, through images, the conversation, or through the action.”

Another way that Parfitt is venturing into new territory is the fact that she hasn’t yet staged a musical. That’s where composer and songwriter Lipovetsky comes in – and if you take a look at his TikTok page full of Bo Burnham-esque, incredibly catchy and often self-deprecating songs about a variety of ridiculous and unusual subjects, you’ll understand why he’s an ideal choice to liven up the proceedings. In musically directing someone else’s songs and balancing it with his acting side, he’s finding his own engaging challenges in the show.

“I have a lot of fun with the songs, they’re short and sweet, they start each act, and I play the ukulele for each of them,” he says. “They’re very fun and bright and happy even though the lyrics are pessimistic and cynical. When I have someone else’s work, I try to figure out the composer’s intent, and because I am a composer, I can imagine what they went through when they wrote it. I would say the acting is more challenging – we go to some deep places in the scenes.”

“We go to some deep places in the scenes.”

Whether you’re familiar with the source material or not, Parfitt and Lipovetsky are aiming to make things as accessible as possible, injecting a 19th-century tale with some dark humour about struggling to find a purpose and how nothing ever seems to go right. They hope the show will not only make people laugh, but make them think.

“The play asks questions about life and love and art that audience members will want to talk about and argue after the show, which I think is the mark of a great play,” Lipovetsky says. “And as a member of this ensemble, I feel like I’m surrounded by some of the best actors in Vancouver.”

“I think that it’s heartwarming, and with the music, it’s also very approachable,” Parfitt agrees. “And I’m biased, of course, but I think it’s a really great piece of theatre.”

Stupid Fucking Bird runs from April 12 to 23 at the Cultch’s Historic Theatre in Vancouver.