Leaving The Bluebird Mechanicals, there’s a temptation to survey every member of the exiting audience.
What did you think? How did it make you feel?
It’s a rare impulse. Generally, it’s not difficult to determine the vibe of an audience after a work. People are eager to talk and decompress. One just has to listen closely.
But, in this case, I desperately wanted to know. Not just the vibe. I wanted to know the details.
Did they hate it? Did they love it? Were they confused? Were they frustrated?
Because, The Bluebird Mechanicals is weird.
Beyond weird. It’s weird in a very weird way.
Typically, when we describe something as weird, we’re also implying a certain illogicality and inscrutability to proceedings. A chaotic and indeliberate experience, full of mess and expression.
And, that is not The Bluebird Mechanicals at all.
The Bluebird Mechanicals may be one of the tightest, most considered and deliberate works I’ve ever seen. There isn’t an inch of the show that doesn’t feel like it’s been refined and distilled to its purest, most impactful essence. It knows exactly what it wants to say and exactly how to say it.
But, the work’s choice of vocabulary and materials in articulating its ideas are so removed from the norm that, again, it can only easily be described as weird.
Based on old museums, the set is possessed of a musty, miasmic queasiness. The multimedia filtered throughout the show is foggy and distortive; shuddering, unpredictable ghosts lurching up from different machines to further bewilder and challenge the audience.
The sole performer, Talya Rubin of Too Close to the Sun, veers from pouring out poetic, expressive, Chekhovian eloquence to contemptuous, salesperson-like glad-handing to percussive, repetitive surrealist puppetry – stuttering and layering syllables like scratched, glitching recordings.
Hayley Forward’s sound design, meanwhile, is among some of the most unique and affective I’ve experienced in a performance work – slashing together sepia-toned needle-drops with clattering, buzzing noise textures and cinematic, droning layers of sound. It’s a work of pure craft.
All of which is why I desperately wanted to survey every audience member.
Because, I think The Bluebird Mechanicals may be one of the best works I’ve ever seen.
That’s not a cold, intellectual admiration, either. I loved it, down to its very bones.
But, I can easily imagine a lot of people really hating it.
There’s an astonishing amount of thematic depth to the work. Weaving together characters from Chekhov’s The Seagull, the final journey of the Hindenburg and deep appreciation of ornithology, The Bluebird Mechanicals gives itself a very broad canvas – but stretches even further.
In sum, it’s a work about the end of the world. Rubin tells the audience as much, in a short, welcoming preamble. But, the creative team use the work’s many threads to explore a myriad of angles and ideas around that (at this point, depressingly ubiquitous topic).
There’s the cheery obliviousness of those doomed to die who refuse to forestall or reflect upon their fate. There’s the strange weary half-life of those who have lived through too many disasters to feel fully alive. There’s the incandescent rage at the sheer absurdity and pointlessness of it all.
And, it goes on. One of the work’s highlights is a pair of ancient, alien birds mourning the loss of humanity in fractured, jagged dialogues. Buried within the Chekhov characters is a subtle parable about the foolishness of following the spectres of old white male egotists into death.
But, The Bluebird Mechanicals refuses to make much of this explicit. Or, to tie it together in a logically sequenced and digestible way. Typically in works of such ambition, there are moments where the creative team ditch the ambiguity and hold the hands of the audience. Not here.
From a personal perspective, I adored that decision.
At its heart, The Bluebird Mechanicals feels like a drawn-out metatextual shriek of horror, grief and frustration. It’s an expression of the deep, complex anxiety of having to live every day in the obscure, amorphous shadow of the apocalypse. The strangeness of paying bills as we wait for death.
And, I don’t think it would work if it was explicit. One of the great struggles of this absurd era in which we find ourselves is that it prompts so many powerful, conflicting impulses. Compassion. Rage. Amusement. Resignation. Hate. Love. Children give us hope but we fear for their future.
If The Bluebird Mechanicals coalesced into a specific screed or approach (which I feel it would have to, in order to truly dumb itself down for easier consumption), it wouldn’t be so effective at embodying that sense of churning, horrified, hilarious, hateful befuddlement.
All of which is to say – if you’re looking for a straightforward recommendation, I’m not sure I can give one.
I loved The Bluebird Mechanicals. I think it’s as near to a flawless work as I’ve seen since The Danger Ensemble’s The Hamlet Apocalypse, some eight years ago.
But, you might hate it. You might have no idea what’s going on. You might think it’s really weird, silly and pointless. (Which it is, in a way.)
However, if any of the above sounds even remotely appealing, I’d encourage you to take the leap, should the opportunity present itself.
Be bold. Embrace the weirdness.
Nadia Jade saw The Bluebird Mechanicals in 2017. You can read her thoughts on it here.
CAST AND CREATIVES
Writer, Performer, Visual Concept, Set and Object Designer | Talya Rubin
Co-devisor and Director | Nick James
Sound Designer | Hayley Forward
Lighting Designer | Richard Vabre
Video Designer | Sam James
Set Consultant | Corinne Merrell
Object/Miniature Supervisor | Nancy Belzile
Set Builder/Cabinet Designer | Mark Swartz
Puppet Costume Maker | Kita Mendolia
Puppet Makers | Bryony Andrerson and Mathieu Rene
Bluebird Costume Maker | Christopher Baldwin
Dramaturge | Campion Decent
Images | Samuel James