If memories are a form of time travel then shouldn’t you give your younger self a hug?
Not your regular coming-of-age story, Birds and the Curiosity creates a meet-up between two selves at different points in time. Our two main characters – the 10-year-old Robin, dealing with body image issues, bullying, and death for the first time in her life, and the 25-year-old Robin, jaded by the adult world and starting to blame it all on her childhood traumas – meet through time travel. Robin was able to go back and better prep her little kid self. To her surprise, the ten-year-old Robin also taught her a thing or two of what she’s forgotten in her adulthood.
The play has a dreamlike structure, switching tone and style from scene to scene, multiple things happening at the same time, weaving the realities of different characters. The reality for little Robin is the wildest. We hope to present on stage everything a kid feels but doesn’t know how to say yet. Stuck in traffic, she sees the giant ostrich running and breaking all the lights (which is a shadow play); she completes an elegant triple loop jump on the moon where there is only ⅙ gravity (with the help of the ensemble lifting her up); her pet hamster (in human-size played by an actor) sings in verses of a sea shanty. These magical moments are shown through the same simple techniques that children learn in their art classes, like origami, but in a more subtle, dream-come-true way. For example, on stage, the paper-folded cranes can actually fly. There is even a children’s show to create a play within a play: little Robin is cast to play the ugly duckling in The Ugly Duckling. But through doing her own toy theater adaptation of this classic tale, she realizes that she doesn’t need to be someone “prettier” like a swan but be herself.
Compared to little Robin’s world with rumbustious colors, old Robin’s world is monotone. She exists non-verbally in most scenes, except the only case of self-expression through a stand-up comedy set with darker humor. The omniscient narration though carefully breaks the linear narrative and provides the blips and bleeps of the future. If the audience were to connect those clues, they’d be able to piece together Robin’s struggles and growth. In between two realities, CooCoo’s bird column inserts flirts with the main storyline, heightening the dream-like quality and keeping one guessing whether it really happened or was just a metaphor. In the end, CooCoo decided to pursue her dream and find the said extinct Dodo birds – is it a reference to what will happen to Robin?
Ultimately, Bird and Curiosity is for Zhigeng, for Robin, and for all of us, a story about discovering who we are and who we’ve always been.