By Paul William Kruse; Directed by Will Taylor
Produced by Adjusted Realists
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 7.16.17
JACK, 505 1/2 Waverly Ave, Brooklyn
by Asya Danilova on 6.30.17
Roger Manix and Sangi Varsano in Chickens in the Yard. Photo by Mia Isabella.
BOTTOM LINE: In this emotionally subtle, surreal play, a gay couple searches for balance in their relationship, their families, and their fowl.
Tom (Roger Manix) and John (Jeremiah Maestas) are a happy couple, living together with John's mother Joyce (Maggie Low) in Pittsburgh, PA. Tom certainly tries to stay positive, despite the fact that his career as a sculptor never took off and he now works at a coffee shop. Despite his own insecurities, Tom tries to brighten up the lives of his loved ones. Evenings go by in a pleasant routine: take out food, wine from red solo cups, and red cigarettes while seated on red garden furniture. But peace and understanding, shown through the excellent color coordination of Jeff Hinchee's scenic and costume design, is suddenly stirred by the appearance of Tom’s sister Abby (Sangi Varsano), who he hasn’t seen since she was four. Now seventeen, Abby has come to scout local colleges, or at least this is what she says.
There's also the family's chicken farm, initially meant to fulfill Joyce's longing for her dead husband. In everyday life, chickens are many things to their humans: a source of produce, pets, a reason to communicate, and something to care about. But most importantly, in Chickens in the Yard the chickens—Bruce Lee, Lucille Two, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Anne Hutchinson—provide a way to escape the complications of the human world through surreal transformation. Every time anybody chickens out they literally become a chicken.
In their attempts to define the meaning of family, marriage, love, and personal happiness, the characters confront the ghosts from their past, including Tom's homophobic mother. But for the most part it’s the god-like voice of Mr. Park, Joyce’s husband and John’s father, who dominates these flashbacks. The accompanying lighting change immerses the stage in darkness and reveals the relief of the tinfoil-covered walls. This DIY, space-age silver coating adds a surreal visual effect, giving the feeling that we are inside a chicken coop.
The four actors are excellent as both humans and birds. Their shifts between species happen right in the middle of a scene, allowing for seamless transitions. Although there are certain parallels between the worlds of humans and fowl, Kruse thankfully never reduces the relationship between them to a simple moralistic metaphor. Yet one can't help but ask: are people supposed to be happy by design, just like chickens are created to lay eggs? Or is it more the case that, just as chickens don’t lay eggs on cue, people can’t be happy on command?
(Chickens in the Yard plays at Jack, 505 1/2 Waverly Avenue, Brooklyn, through July 16, 2017. The running time is 75 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Thursday through Sunday at 8 with added performance on Monday, July 10 at 8. Tickets are $25. For tickets and more information, call Brown Paper Tickets at 800-838-3006 or visit adjustedrealists.com.)
Chickens in the Yard is by Paul William Kruse. Directed by Will Taylor. Produced by Adjusted Realists. Scenic and Costume design is by Jeff Hinchee. Lighting design is by Aaron Porter. Sound design is by Adrian Bridges.
The cast is Maggie Low, Jeremiah Maestas, Roger Manix and Sangi Varsano.