By Mike Batistick. Directed by Jennifer Copping. Presented by Chicken Equity Co-op at the Havana Theatre on Thursday, August 2. Continues until August 11
Mike Batistick’s play, Chicken, is an actors’ vehicle. If you go, allow yourself to sink into the pleasure the performers are having. Nothing is quite as rewarding to play as vivacious dysfunction and there’s plenty of that on offer.
Wendell shares a cramped Bronx apartment with his pregnant wife Lina—and his freeloading friend Floyd, who sleeps on the couch, steals money from Wendell, and makes passes at his pear-shaped spouse. The ever-hopeful Wendell hits on a plan: he and Floyd will win thousands of dollars by entering a rooster in a cockfight. With their winnings, he reasons, Floyd will be able to move out. As Wendell says to his street brother, “You know you can stay here as long as you want, but like…you can’t, either.”
I get a little queasy when poor people are presented as screwed up and stupid but amusingly lively. That said, there are some drolly funny lines in Chicken. When Wendell berates Lina for smoking while she’s pregnant, she deadpans, “People in Ireland do it all the time.”
Kyra Zagorsky, who plays Lina, has it goin’ on. Simply put, I bought her performance. Lina not only smokes, she also defiantly drinks while she’s pregnant but, after the baby’s born, she comments on how small the infant is and, thanks to Zagorsky, you feel the shards of terror and regret. And, in a touchingly funny moment, Zagorsky’s Lina reacts to finding out that the fighting cock isn’t from France; it’s from Calgary: “I can’t believe I’m going to say this. It takes the romance out of it.” Lina’s laughing at herself, but her eyes mist up, and you know that she, too, harboured hope.
Darcy Laurie’s Floyd is as real as sweat. The character is a complete dick—with its deliberate examination of belligerent masculinity, Chicken might as well have been called Cock—but you’ve got to admire the understated seamlessness of Laurie’s work.
Still, the acting is somewhat inconsistent. Valerie Pauwels finds terrific moments as Floyd’s estranged wife Rosalind. But this is the first acting gig for Joe Cruz (Geronimo, the guy who sold Wendell the bird). Ari Solomon’s Wendell is persuasively innocent at times, but he doesn’t bring enough presence to meet the force of Laurie’s Floyd in their two-handed scenes.
Howard Siegel is excellent as Floyd’s dad, Felix, who has had a stroke. Siegel works the disjointed rhythms of Felix’s speech to strong comic and emotional affect, but those rhythms get repetitive.
That may be the fault of the script, which repeats itself on other fronts, notably Floyd’s abuse of Wendell. Significant plot points are predictable and this production contains some awkwardly staged moments of physical violence.
So there are some stringy bits in this Chicken, but most of it is pretty juicy.