Robrt Pela: Review of 'Year of the Rooster'

By Robrt Pela
Published: Friday, December 12, 2014 - 7:32am
Updated: Friday, December 12, 2014 - 7:37am
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KJZZ’s theatre critic Robrt Pela reviews "Year of the Rooster," now at Stray Cat Theatre in Phoenix.


“Year of the Roos­­­­ter,” now crowing its head off at Stray Cat Theatre, serves up a compelling theatrical medley of black comedy and tough characters. Intelligently handled by young playwright Eric Dufault, this angst-drenched story is presented by a quartet of characters who demonstrate what happens when pain and longing spin out of control, and is nudged along by a talking bird who, as played by Austin Kiehle, is some kind of revelation.

There are several shattering moments and grown-up revelations, but Dufault doesn't make his play into either a catechism lesson on public morality or a sermon against cruelty to animals. He is exploring the damage done to boys with lousy fathers. Director Michael Peck turns it into a love story told by people most of us wouldn’t like to know.

The language of the play is natural and convincing and captures brilliantly the lingo of down-and-out dreamers; it’s a language thrust at us with topnotch technical designs: a feather-strewn set; appropriately harsh lighting and a split-second sound design.

Staged as a high-energy comedy, “Year of the Rooster” soon proves itself to be a drama with neatly layered characters and a tightly conceived plot. It also presents the seedy side of cockfighting as it probably really is, with sly sneaks at the cruelty to the birds it defiles and special emphasis on the snaky folk that underground sporting tends to draw.

The neatly clipped narrative is sustained by moving, complex performances. Katie McFadzen brings an insight into the strengths and frailties of her character, in this case a sickly, possibly dying old woman who turns up in a different wig in each scene. Osiris Cuen gives a sharp performance as a streetwise kid who plans to take over McDonalds and use her riches to seduce the guy who plays Mowgli at Disney World. But her brief scene as an over-stuffed, corn-fed hen, crammed into a hilarious chicken fat suit, provides what might be the play’s brightest moment. Squatting over an invisible nest, she conveys, with just her eyes and her drowsy disposition, the finest fowl a local stage may have ever seen.

Next to young Mr. Kiehle, that is. Last seen as a wholesome, chipper Mormon missionary in Stray Cat’s The Whale,  he proves an unusually wide range by playing a maniacal rooster, determined to murder the sun—apparently his true enemy—and everything under it. Furious and pumped up on a combo of steroids and Chicken McNuggets, he is captivating, strutting jerkily, twitching and crowing violent diatribes you won’t want to miss.

Robrt Pela’s reviews appear in the Phoenix New Times. “Year of the Rooster” continues through December 21 at 132 East Sixth St, Tempe. Call 480-227-1766 or visit www.straycattheatre.org.

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