BWW Review: MAP's Dark Absurd Comedy YEAR OF THE ROOSTER
On the surface Olivia Dufault's "Year of the Rooster" doesn't seem like a fun night out filled with laughs. A play about a failed trainer for cock fights. And to be honest it packs an ending that will not send you whistling into the street filled with hope for tomorrow. But this is MAP Theatre, and as their mission statement says, "We favor local work and comedy that hurts a bit" and this one does hurt. But at the same time, it's filled with stunning performances and more than a few laughs in this absurd yet all too grounded world director Peggy Gannon and the cast and crew have created over at 18th and Union.
If you've been to 18th and Union you know it's a tiny little venue but somehow with oodles of possibilities and scenic designer Suzi Tucker has deftly transformed it into a rundown home in Oklahoma, a McDonalds, and yes, a cock fighting ring where our hero Gil Pepper (Brandon Ryan) spends his time. He doesn't have much in his life except working at the golden arches with his new sassy manager Philipa (Zenaida Smith) and going home to is invalid mother Lou (Mia Morris) and her somewhat alive dog Beau. But now Gil has gotten ahold of something that will make his life worthwhile, Odysseus Rex (Shane Regan), a fighting rooster with a penchant to take out anything that moves. Gil thinks it's enough to take down the best that smug cock fight promoter Dickie Thimble (Lantz Wagner) has to offer. But what happens when all his dreams come true?
The play is certainly an absurd one and even through it's dark comedy director Gannon makes sure we see the heart of the characters. Sure, we can hear what the rooster is thinking even no one else understands him and sure, he wants to take out everyone around him but that doesn't mean we don't feel for him. Gannon keeps the absurdity and cartoonish nature of the piece with a pinky toe in reality so we never lose sight of the humanity of these characters.
The ensemble is quite a tight one with a total commitment to everything they're doing and saying despite its ridiculousness. Regan is hysterical as the confused yet murderous bird with a vendetta against the sun and keeps his character and focus locked in no matter what (even during a seeming gaff on stage). Ryan brings in a heartbreaking tragic character that you want to root for no matter how much is stacked against him and no matter how much you know he will fail. Morris could have played off her character as simply one of derision but made her beautifully complex. Smith pulls double (even triple) duty in the play but in her main character as the snarky McDonalds manager she conveys a stunning sense of purpose mixed with longing. And Wagner is (pardon my French) a dick. There's really no better way to describe the mixture of outlandish braggadocio and inward scared little boy that he's concocted and he pulls it off brilliantly. And he too pulls double duty and while I don't wish to give away any surprises, his secondary character is a delightful extension of his primary one.
MAP Theatre has once again provided us with a powerful piece filled with damaged characters and done it in such a skillful way that it becomes entertainment. We find ourselves laughing in spite of the horror as they've moved the horror just a bit to the side for our enjoyment. That is until that ending. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give MAP Theatre's production of "Year of the Rooster" a laughing yet disturbed YAY. "Laughing Yet Disturbed". Maybe that should be the title of their memoirs when the time comes.
"Year of the Rooster" from MAP Theatre performs at 18th and Union through May 5th. As always, MAP Theatre continues their Name-Your-Own-Price ticketing model. For tickets or information visit them online at www.map-theatre.com.