“Year of the Rooster,” dir. by Peggy Gannon

What would your cock say if it could talk? Olivia Dufault’s script “Year of the Rooster” answers this burning (dare I say “age-old”?) question for us. The play, produced by MAP Theatre and currently showing at 18th&Union, opens on a rooster who has been given a voice. The connection is clear – this rooster doesn’t just speak for himself, he speaks for all men tortured by prevalent definitions of masculinity.

In the next 100 minutes, a story unfolds that uses McDonald chicken nuggets, underground cock-fighting, and broken dreams to illustrate problematic expectations for men in our society.

Dufault’s dialogue is truly funny – dark and biting at times, sharp and silly at times. Major kudos to the cast for carrying each joke with impeccable timing and strength. A standout is Zenaida Smith, who plays the confident and crass Phillipa. The verve Smith brings to her character is extremely catching – she is at once endearing and inspiring, hilarious and formidable.

While jokes are flying fast, the script is not without its tender scenes. Brandon Ryan’s character, Gil Pepper, takes a heavy dose of verbal and emotional abuse from many angles. Pay careful attention to the flickering of Ryan’s eyes — his ability to emote raw vulnerability is a pillar for the production.

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Another worthy mention is Shane Regan who plays the talking cock, Odysseus Rex. Although the role could have easily fallen flat on its feathers, Regan brings a stinging sense of depth to each of his monologues. Dufault’s script creates sympathy for Odysseus – here is a creature that has only been taught rage and aggression. He is not allowed to indulge in sensitivity or weakness, he is forced to find strength in anger. (Can you hear the symbolism flapping its heavy wings?)

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Photo by Dave Hastings, courtesy of MAP Theatre. Actors Lantz Wagner (back) and Shane Regan (front) play two fighting cocks in the ring.

While Dufault’s characters are mere archetypes, the energy brought to the stage by each member of the cast is contagious. Scene cadence is spot on with each actor playing off the next in clear harmony. There are no dull or lagging moments. It doesn’t matter if the metaphor is obvious or the depictions purely cosmetic, the end result is a thought-provoking and entertaining production.

As always, MAP’s pay-what-you-can price model is refreshing and extremely appealing. Compared to $65++ tickets at larger venues, the intimate setting at 18th&Union makes for a gripping theater-going experience. While there may be messier scene changes, you will have no issues seeing the actor’s faces from any of the 49 available seats.

Playing now until May 5th, tickets available here.

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