Single Carrot Theatre presents vivid Baltimore premiere of 'Year of the Rooster'

Tim Smith
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
It's the season of cockfighting in Baltimore. On the stage, that is. Latest example: "Year of the Rooster."

If you always thought noisy roosters were perkily greeting the sun, meet Odysseus — Odie, for short. He's the foul-mouthed fowl being carefully bred to kill in Eric Dufault's biting play "Year of the Rooster," now onstage in its Baltimore premiere at Single Carrot Theatre.

This bird sees nothing but evil in that blazing orb in the sky, a villain he plans to cut down to size the first chance he gets. Then again, Odie would happily slay anything that exists. "I think I could kill a cow if I put my mind to it," he says. "I think I could kill a car. A house."

Odie's owner has another target in mind for the creature, of course. Unlike "The Cockfight Play," Mike Bartlett's study of sex and relationships running at Fells Point Corner Theatre, this piece really is a tale of cockfighting and the motivations behind that ghastly practice. 

But it's more about dreamers and schemers, about getting ahead and getting even. Beneath it all, you can also find some pointed messages about poultry processing and the fast food industry, not to mention hypocrisy, vapidness and other assorted social ills.

To wash it all down, Dufault tosses in a lot of sharp humor and off-beat touches, which makes the work tailor-made for Single Carrot, dean of Baltimore's alternative theater scene.

The production is directed with a propulsive touch by Dustin C.T. Morris and given a suitably dingy set by Jason Randolph, with telling costumes (Jess Rassp) and sound design (David Crandall) adding to the edgy atmosphere.

A well-matched ensemble claws through "Year of the Rooster" in dynamic fashion, and the taut energy helps the play's weaker elements go down easy.

Paul Diem has the moves and the lungs for the strutting, blustering Odysseus. He also has the nuance to shift gears in Act 2, when the rooster is introduced to a possible mate in the form of a pathetically oversized hen being raised for a McNuggets future. 

McDonald's provides a major leitmotif for the play. Odie's owner, the hapless, loveless Gil (Matthew Casella, in an effectively shaded performance), works behind the counter in one of the chain's locations.

He is buffeted continually by Philipa, the cocky, street-talking McDonald's manager and would-be romantic interest, a role inhabited with considerable flair by Madeline Burrows (she waddles gamely into the role of the hen as well).

Gil routinely steals condiments for his ailing, cranky mother, a woman with a whole mess of issues. She's played skillfully by Virginia House, gliding on- and offstage via a mechanized recliner.

Feeding Odie a diet of McNuggets (an interesting twist on cannibalism) and steroid injections, Gil is determined to move beyond a do-you-want-fries-with-that world.

He jumps at the chance for a death match between Odie and a big bad bird named Bat-Dolphin (there's a story behind that), owned by cockfighting honcho Dickie Thimble, played with bravado and palpable sleaze by Elliott Rauh.

The Act 1-closing fight scene (Rauh doubles as Bat-Dolphin) is as unsettling as you would expect, in literal and metaphorical ways. The remainder of the play, while not as cohesive or clever, scores its share of points, too, underlining the touch of Greek tragedy that flows through this darkly comic tale.  

    

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If you go

"Year of the Rooster" runs through Jan. 10 at Single Carrot Theatre, 2600 N. Howard St. Tickets are $10 to $30. Call 443-844-9253, or go to singlecarrot.com.

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