The Chicken Who Wasn't Chicken: Its Yolks, er, Jokes Are Funny and Its Message Isn't Scrambled

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Jeremy LeBlanc is all chicken.

The kids in the sweet, funny new play The Chicken Who Wasn't Chicken, running in Plano through Sunday, February 26, don't know how lucky they are. The script is a new one from Matt Lyle, a former Dallas writer and actor who went on to Second City's writing program in Chicago a few years ago and who now hosts the podcast variety show The City Life Supplement. The play's director is Jeff Swearingen, a gifted comedic actor who starred in two of Lyle's best plays,The Boxer and Hello Human Female. Swearingen now puts on shows with and for kids at Fun House Theatre and Film in Plano, where the chicken play premiered last night.

The kids are lucky because it's evident in their unself-conscious performances and snappy comic timing that they trust their director and understand how to deliver Lyle's fresh, off-kilter comedy. It's an all-youth cast and every young actor on the tiny stage at the Plano Children's Theatre space, even the tiniest chick in the yolk-yellow leotard, hits the punchlines like an old pro. They know how to pull off double-takes. They hold for laughs and don't step on each other's dialogue. That takes a lot of work and focus.

Lyle's plays are all heart and Chicken boils down to a simple love story complicated by a couple of baddies. Mike Chicken (Jeremy LeBlanc) is a video clerk and film buff who recommends his favorite movies, like the romantic A Coop with a View, to his customers. Mike has set his beak for pretty Polly (Kennedy Waterman) but he's too shy to tell her how he feels. Enter two bullies, a pig named Biff (Dalton Walker) and a frog named Ribbit (Jack Waterman), who taunt and tease Mike, trying to leave egg on his face. Mike's boss, Mr. Goat (Madeleine Norton), is no help as defense; he's an old goat who doesn't like to butt in.

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Polly (Kennedy Waterman) gives that bully pig (Dalton Walker) the wing.
The production cleverly combines live action and film, as Mike's cinematic fantasies, all starring him and Polly, mirror great movie romances. On the big screen stage right, we see Mike and Polly re-enact famous scenes from Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, Star Wars, Pretty Woman (with some for-the-grownups commentary on Julia Roberts' obnoxious laugh in the jewelry box bit), When Harry Met Sally, Jerry Maguire and more. Shot on lookalike locations, the movie takeoffs are slickly done and the young actors show remarkable confidence in front of the camera. (The filmed pieces were shot and edited by Collin Kennedy.)

Back onstage, Mike's favorite movie characters join his pursuit of Polly and his fight against the bullies. Darth Vader appears to give Mike hugs. The Stay Puft marshmallow man from Ghostbusters galumphs by. And Mike's friends, Vivica, a fox (Betsy Shook), Mr. Whiskers (David Allen Norton), Gil (Tess Cutillo), Marcus (Doak Rapp), Woogie (Luke Flad and Ben Herrick), the Pigeon girls (Lee Rodenbaugh, Mia Heber, Elena Rosales, Lynley Glickler), Newsie (Elizabeth Greene), Mickey (Sierra Flad), Mike Jr. (Ella Warner) and Micaela (Zoe Smithey) run onstage to perform the "Jai Ho" number from Slumdog Millionaire.

Performed against omelet-yellow scenery designed by Joseph Cummings, with adorable
costumes by Tanya Paknejad that suggest fur and fowl with slight alterations of ordinary clothes (orange tennis shoes do look like chicken feet), the show zips by in under an hour. Kids will dig the silliness of the characters and relate, one hopes, to the lesson about the ill effects of bullying. Adults will pick up on the sly references to old movies and appreciate lines like "I feel myself slipping into a dream sequence and a montage."

The Chicken Who Wasn't Chicken
is one children's show that goes over easy.

See the show this weekend only at 7:15 p.m., Friday-Saturday-Sunday; 2:15 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $8 in advance, $10 at the door and may be reserved by calling 214-564-5015 or at www.funhousetheatreandfilm.com.

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