Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

Theatre Exile

Also see Nancy's review of Welcome Home, Marian Anderson

Joe Guzmán and Catalina Medina
Roosters is a play that walks a tightrope. It's a realistic study of family dynamics; it's an experiment in magic realism; and it's a gritty examination of Mexican-American culture. That's a lot for one play to accomplish, and while there are some fascinating moments in Theatre Exile's new production, Milcha Sanchez-Scott's play gets bogged down in flowery dialogue, hackneyed characters and too many scenes that are just plain dull.

Gallo Morales lives for cockfighting; nothing is more exciting to him than training roosters to battle. Seven years ago, however, a dispute with a neighbor over a rooster turned violent, and Gallo ended up in prison on a manslaughter charge. Now he's back home (in a poverty-stricken town in the American southwest) and ready to pick up where he left off. That means training his best rooster, Zapata - the bird to whom he coos "You're a beauty, a real beauty ... you're my son - make me proud." But Gallo has a real son, Hector, and Hector wants to control Zapata himself - after all, Hector's grandfather willed the bird to him. Now that Gallo is back, he feels he must establish himself as the man of the house - or is that the cock of the walk? - and that means taking control of the bird. Hector wants to prevent the rooster from fighting; Gallo taunts him by saying "Is it the bird that will not fight, or you? I've never seen a bird that won't fight, but there are men who are cowards." Their conflict ends up taking up lots of symbolic undertones.

Speaking of symbolism, there's Gallo's flighty 15-year-old daughter Angela, who wears wings on her back, has visions of the Virgin Mary, and calls herself "the angel of this yard." And then there's Gallo's sister Chata, who is a prostitute - because, I guess, if you've got a virgin in a show like this, you have to balance her out with a whore. (Sanchez-Scott's introduction of the whore almost seems designed for audience members who thought the indigent, irresponsible, macho Mexican-American ex-con obsessed with cockfighting wasn't quite trite enough.)

In the opening scene, Gallo gives a poetic speech about Zapata ("my burgundy high-flyer") while watching the bird dance; the rooster is played by a dancer making acrobatic kicks and graceful somersaults. At this point, it looks like director Deborah Block is going to present us with a lovely, dreamlike take on life in the Southwest. Unfortunately, the pace never picks up, and the mood degenerates from dreamlike to positively sleepy. Once Gallo's family appears, things get pretty boring; it's more than half an hour into the show before Gallo raises his voice and things heat up. Even then, the conflicts are nothing we haven't seen before in more interesting dramas. The comic relief characters - Chata (the whore) and Adan (a farmhand) - aren't particularly funny. And as beautifully as Block stages the scenes of fantasy, they can't distract from the hollowness at the show's core.

The strong cast makes the most of this, especially the vibrant Joe Guzmán as Gallo, and Oscar Dubón, who makes Hector's anguish quite gripping. There are also touching performances by Anjoli Santiago as Angela, and Catalina Medina as Gallo's beleaguered wife. And there's a lovely set design by Matt Saunders and moody lighting by Paul Moffitt.

Roosters is an ambitious work, but it doesn't blend all of its disparate elements together well enough to make it consistently interesting.

Roosters runs through February 24, 2008 and is presented by Theatre Exile at Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 North American Street, Philadelphia. Tickets are $15-$40 with discounts available for students and groups, and are available by calling 215-922-4462 or online at

By Milcha Sanchez-Scott
Directed by Deborah Block
Stage Manager... Desiree Salera
Set Designer... Matt Saunders
Lighting Designer... Paul Moffitt
Sound Designer... Christopher Colucci
Costume Designer... Hiroshi Iwasaki
Production Manager... Cybele Perry

Gallo... Joe Guzmán
Juana... Catalina Medina
Angela... Anjoli Santiago
Adan/Musician... Emmanuel Carrera
Hector... Oscar Dubón
Chata... Melissa Sabater
Zapata/Shadow #1... Chris Devany
San Juan/Shadow #2... Peter M. Midgley DiGeronimo

Photo: Cory Frisco 

-- Tim Dunleavy

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