About halfway through the first act of Cygnet Theatre’s production of Aaron Posner’s Stupid Fucking Bird, after the “showing” of the play-within-the-play, but before the “We need new forms” speech, occurs a brief dialogue between Sorn (Walter Murray) and Mash (Jacque Wilke). Sorn, inspired by the abbreviated play from would-be revolutionary Conrad (Ro Boddie), muses on the plasticity of time and space, wondering if it’s possible to actually answer the question, “Where are we?” with anything more concrete than the “Here. We. Are.” of Conrad’s play.
Sorn describes that feeling we’ve all felt, finding ourselves someplace and wondering, How did I get here? Immediately, it’s that sense of having lost some chunk of time that was somehow not important enough to keep, as if the mind and body went into autopilot and a potentially meaningful period of life ceased to exist. In a grander way, it’s the colossal confusion of waking up mid-life and feeling cast against reality’s unstoppable tide, which, of course, echoes the aging Sorin’s woes in The Seagull, the play on which Stupid Fucking Bird is based. Some people may recognize it as the big question from that most famous Talking Heads song, which treats this serious question with gleeful indifference.
Sorn seems content to muse comically on his problem, proclaiming, “It’s bad enough when you’re just driving to the store or something, and years go by!” Most will laugh at the comic delivery, and then focus on the crux of the scene, where Mash exacts fatherly comfort from the awkward Sorn.
But what about Sorn’s existential problem? It’s one of the few things Posner expanded on — as opposed to contracting — from the original; and the MoMA saw fit to exhibit the video for “Once in a Lifetime” as a piece of mainstream modern art. Posner, Chekov, and David Byrne all attack this vexing question (“How did I get here?”) obliquely, wrapping it in jest.
Perhaps because it terrifies.
As life goes by, it becomes ever easier to put things off, not till next week, but till next month, and then till next year, and on till infinity. The fact that Sorn can only prove his 40s existed because he “can show you [his tax returns]” might be the scariest part of a play about very scary things. As with The Seagull, perhaps that’s why the only fitting approach is darkest humor.
Stupid Fucking Bird runs through June 19.