Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
The Rooster Crows
Also see Wally's review of Gidion's Knot
The Year of the Rooster tells the story of one-eyed sad sack Gil Pepper (Peter Diseth). He lives with his mom and her dying dog. He is routinely ridiculed and humiliated by cockfighting impresario Dickie Thimble, played by Paul Blott (the character names are great). He is continually demeaned by Philipa (Skye Watterberg), his boss at McDonald's. She's a 19-year-old girl who passed him up to become manager. Gil has one hope in life, that his young-and-raring-to-go rooster Odysseus Rex (Levi Shrader) can successfully challenge Thimble's top rooster in a cock fight. Gil has trained Rex and pumped him full of chemicals for the inevitable clash with Thimble's blind rooster.
The play is part cartoon, part serious dramanot intermittently, but all at the same time. Part of this can be attributed to playwright Eric Dufault's generation, somewhere between X and Millennial. In Year of the Rooster you can see the dramatic genre-blending that you also see in graphic novels, video games, and pop movies, where horror is funny and violence is blasé. The blend of funny/sad gives juice to this delightfully peculiar play. Dufault brings an easy confidence to his story, and he has been rewarded with praise. He has racked up a sizeable list of prizes in his short career, including an Outer Critics Circle John Glassner Award, a 2014-2015 PoNY Fellowship and many more. Year of the Rooster was a NY Times Critics' Pick during its Off-Broadway run earlier this year.
Kudos to producer Dennis Gromelski for bringing this play to Albuquerque, and to director Aaron Worley for executing it well. Diseth is wonderful as Gil Pepper. His stunned look is perfect for Pepper's abrupt ups and downs. Paul Blott delivers a wonderful smooth-talking, Dickie, whose enthusiastic encouragement of Gil is matched by an underlying cruelty. Elizabeth Huffman turns in solid performance as Gil's dingy mother, Lou.
A couple of surprises in the production include Skye Watterberg as Philipa, who is both a problem and an allure for Gil. While still a high school senior, Watterberg is already a veteran of Fusion productions. Her Philipa is the right blend of saucy and mean, but her performance as Rex's love interest (yes, a chicken) is both tender and hilarious.
Levi Shrader turns in a wonderful performance as the rooster Rex, complete with jerky head movements. Shrader nails Rex's bewilderment. The rooster doesn't know where he is or what's going on, but his enthusiasmspiked by performance chemicalsis boundless.
The narrative arc of this comic tragedy is not unique. Bad character traits are punished, but we don't really care. Nobody but the chickens has any particularly positive traits, and the chickens become victims of human forces (they're chickens after all). The real mojo in this play is the writing, which finds laughs in the darkest corners while underscoring the hard fact of life that the doofus always loses. And this play has a few.
The Year of the Rooster by Eric Dufault is produced by the Fusion Theatre Company. The play runs at the Cell Theatre, 700 1 st St. NW, through November 23, 2014. For the weekend of November 14 through 16, performances are Friday at 8:00 pm, Saturday at 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm, and Sunday at 6:00 pm. Tickets are $40, $35 for senior and students. For reservations, go to liveatthecell.com, or call 766-9412. The Fusion will also present a weekend of performances November 21 through 23 at the Cell with ticket prices set at a pay-what-you-can rate. Call 766-9412 for information.