‘Stupid F**king Bird’ flaps at Monster Box
By Casaundra Freeman
WATERFORD, Twp.–Any theatre company that attempts to exist, let alone thrive in Michigan is to be respected. To run a theatre company here is to love theatre so much that you commit to sharing its magic with audiences, no matter how sparsely populated your space might be on any given night.
It is to so deeply believe in your mission that you execute it despite the swell of naysayers that believe your time, effort and resources would be better spent doing something else, anything else .
So, it was with a deep sense of appreciation that I pulled into the parking lot prepared to see a production of Stupid F’ing Bird by Aaron Posner. Tucked away in a far corner of what one might mistake as an abandoned strip mall, sits the deceptively capable space that is Monster Box Theatre. So deceptive in fact, upon entering you might easily think of the space more as an entertainment complex than a small professional theatre. There are offerings of popcorn, candy, snacks, even board games and a spacious area to hang out in and enjoy your selections before the show starts. In the space which functions more like a lounge than a lobby, coffee lovers are also encouraged to sample Monster Box’s own special, proprietary blend of Cinnamon-Sriracha Fire Roast known as Ffrizzakkle.
About 15 minutes past the curtain time, the lights were up and Posner’s work, which always pushes the envelope and challenges any traditionalist’s take on what theatre should be, was ready for viewing. Posner’s ideas are huge and the text for Stupid F’ing Bird is complex, so it makes sense that the set was simple, largely unadorned and straightforward, so as not to get in the way of the words.
For those unfamiliar with the play, Stupid F’ing Bird is new take on the Chekov classic “The Seagull.” Despite being a self described “new form” piece of theatre, Posner’s text is much longer than the one acts of which today’s theatre audiences are becoming increasingly accustomed. To do this play well, is to create pacing that allows Posner’s words to resonate but not linger. To do this play well, the audience must leave thinking ‘is it over already’, ‘that was really short, let’s kick back with a spicy coffee and chat about it’.
Stacy Grutza’s intergenerational cast never seemed to lack energy, but long stretches of dropped cues leaves you wondering if they can create the urgency that is so desperately needed to make this piece work, especially for the final moments of the show. The imbalance of energy and urgency created 150 plus minutes that was akin to a baby bird standing on the edge of it’s nest, prepared to take its first flight, flapping its wings boldly, broadly but never managing to take get in the air. One never gets the impression that the cast isn’t up to the task of offering a well paced show, rather that they were allowed to be a bit self indulgent during the script’s legion of monologues and that slows the production.
Pacing aside, the show offers some stand-out performances from Shelby Bradley whose statuesque presence dominates the stage as Emma, the aging actress desperate to maintain some convention in her increasingly unconventional life. Abby Nelson as Mash, also turns in a solid and grounded performance, and were it not for the fact that the playbill reveals that Nelson is an incoming high school senior, one would never suspect it, as she handles very adult themes and realizations with deft and skill far beyond her youth. Nelson’s casting however did create some cringeworthy moments at critical points in the show, thus bringing some of Grutza’s very daring staging choices into question.
It must be said that the audience seemed to love the show, laughter was present and they were interested and responsive from start to finish, particularly in the moments where the script requires the actors to directly engage with the audience.
One hilarious moment came when the character Conrad (Adam Cabot), plopped down next to an African American young man in the front row repeatedly questioning how he could get another character to love him again, to which the young man turned to the actor, looked him square in the eye and answered, “Be Black.” The nearly packed house erupted in laughter and it became clear that moments like these were the reason a theatre company that prides itself on bringing creative and innovative productions to the stage, would dare to do so from their own little corner in Waterford, Michigan. It was a magical moment and one gets the sense that Monster Box creates those often. There is nothing to do except respect that.