The first thing you need to know about Stray Cat Theatre's "Year of the Rooster" is that it is neither a love letter to nor a polemic against the ancient blood sport of cockfighting.
You could read it as either, if you really insisted, but we're in the realm of metaphor here. And if the subject matter is a little disturbing, it helps that the feathered fighters are portrayed by human actors.
Twenty-something playwright Eric Dufault's daring and imaginative script is a "Coen brothers-esque" dark comedy," in the words of Stray Cat artistic director Ron May. It's an apt comparison for this sardonic exploration of a disturbing subculture, complete with twangy accents, but thematically speaking, it shares some DNA with a very different cult favorite from moviedom:
Call it "Vicarious Fight Club."
The second thing you need to know about "Year of the Rooster" is that its most memorable characters are roosters. And that's not because the human roles aren't vividly imagined by the writer, the actors and director Michael Peck. They are, in fact, borderline cartoonish, in that delicious Coen brothers way. But in the kinetic cockfight that is the centerpiece of the play, the galline gladiators cross the line from cartoon to archetype.
Kiehle essays this role with a perfect blend of human and animal quirks, cocking his head in single-minded malevolence. Equally compelling is Louis Farber, who, in addition to the flamboyantly malicious cockfight promoter Dickie Thimble, plays a Zen-like veteran of the cockpit named Bat-Dolphin. At 5 years old, he has become a philosopher as well as fighter, convinced — because he has been blinded by his owner — that "I am the one who killed the sun."
It's funny, but it's not merely funny...And that's what makes this play so provocative: The chicken's world may be small, but it is not, after all, so much smaller than that of his owner — of any of us hairless apes.
THIS IS AN ABRIDGED VERSION OF THE ORIGINAL REVIEW - READ IT IN ITS ENTIRETY BELOW
'Year of the Rooster' provocatively cartoonish