Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Year of the Rooster
Stray Cat Theatre

Also see Gil's reviews of Miracle on 34th Street, Tommy J. & Sally, Pippin and Junie B. Jones ...


Ron May and Austin Kiehle
Plays that focus on a person's hopes and dreams, and their struggles to achieve them, usually amount to some of the best pieces of drama. Eric Dufault's Year of the Rooster, while definitely not at the level of a masterpiece like Death of a Salesman, still amounts to a provocative and thought provoking piece of work centered on the hopes of McDonald's employee Gil and his prize fighting cock Odysseus Rex. Part black comedy, part character study, it is a riveting comedy and Stray Cat Theatre's production has superb performances, excellent direction, and impressive creative aspects.

A habitual "loser," Gil Pepper finally believes he has found his pot of gold with Odysseus Rex (aka Odie.) Gil, who lives with his shut in, disabled mother, a woman who is constantly nagging at him, is belittled by his teenage McDonald's supervisor Philipa and bullied by cock fighting promoter Dickie Thimble. But Gil believes his luck has changed with the killing machine he's trained and that things will finally start to go his way.

This witty play was a hit Off Broadway last year. Dufault has created colorful, realistic characters and situations, and his skill in finding words to portray the thoughts of Odysseus Rex is amazing. Austin Kiehle is nothing short of miraculous as Odysseus Rex. He perfectly embodies Odie and brings the cock to vibrant life. Kiehle has the physicality down perfectly—he struts around the stage, with jerky head and body movements, exactly like a bird. But it is his way of speaking and delivering the many thoughts, feelings and comments that Odie has of pain, suffering, confusion, love and an intense hatred, that culminate in a performance you won't soon forget. Likewise, Ron May is just as good as Gil. May's portrayal has similar shades of pain and love but also a fierce drive and obsession with what he believes is his meal ticket up and out. Gil Pepper is a broken man, and May lets us see his frustration, peek inside his suffering, and endure with him the pain he encounters from the humans in his life and the sheer joy and love he has for Odie. Like Kiehle's portrayal of Odie, May's is an impressive performance.

Louis Farber is appropriately slimy as the promoter who is always putting Gil down, and Farber also gets to show off his slick fighting capabilities as Bat Dolphin, the wise, all-knowing cock who might have just met his match in Odie. As Gil's McDonald's manager Philipa, Osiris Cuen is a spitfire. She is feisty and just as driven and obsessed as Gil is, but with her career and her desire to make it to Walt Disney World Resort, also displays a sweet emotional center in her hot and cold relationship with Gil. Like Farber, Cuen also gets to inhibit a fowl in the play, and as Lucky Lady, a potential love interested for Odie, Cuen is a hoot. Katie McFadzen rounds out the cast as Gil's mom, a shut in, self-proclaimed disabled woman who is obsessed with her very old dog and her desire for Gil to bring home the honey mustard packets he steals from work for her. It's a small part but McFadzen displays her gift for comedy and drama in her daft portrayal.

Director Michael Peck has delivered a firecracker of a production, from the intense performances he gets from his actors to the superb creative elements and the impressive fight choreography from John Tang. It all comes together seamlessly to form a first rate production. Eric Beeck's effective set design separates the fairly large Tempe Performing Arts Center stage into separate playing areas that allow for speedy scene transitions. The impressive costume designs by Danny Chihuahua include a killer outfit for Odie and the other birds as well as character appropriate ones for the humans in the play. Ellen Bone's lighting and Pete Bish's sound design are vibrant and serve the play well.

Like Odie, Gil is a fighter and, while he always seems to be down on his luck, he keeps fighting on, hoping he will finally come out a winner. Year of the Rooster, while it may not have exactly the ending that one hopes for, is an intense, funny play and Stray Cat Theatre's production of it is quite a winner.

Year of the Rooster at the Stray Cat Theatre runs through December 20th, 2014, with performances at the Tempe Performing Arts Center, 132 E. 6th Street in Tempe. Tickets can be ordered by calling 480 227-1766 or at straycattheatre.org

Director: Michael Peck
Production Stage Manager: Mychal Anaya
Assistant Stage Manager: Ruth Farber
Scenic Design: Eric Beeck
Technical Director: Chase Budden
Costume Design: Danny Chihuahua
Property Design: Marcus D. Voss
Lighting Design: Ellen Bone
Sound Engineer: Pete Bish
Fight Choreography: John Tang
Sound Board Operator: Connor Imhoff

Cast :
Odysseus Rex: Austin Kiehle
Dickie Thimble/Bat Dolphin: Louis Farber
Gil Pepper: Ron May
Lou Pepper: Katie McFadzen
Philipa/Lucky Lady: Osiris Cuen


Photo: John Groseclose / Stray Cat Theatre

--Gil Benbrook


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix


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