The Year of the Rooster Is Another Tired Story About a White Man and His Cock
For centuries, white male narrators have dominated storytelling. We're talking everyone from Homer's Odysseus to Shakespeare's Hamlet to America's Rick Perry. Western cultural mythology is steeped in white male hegemony. And at the center of most of those stories is a tricky little devil known as ego. Whether characters are pursuing love, war, power, fame or money, they will be battling an ego along the way. It's a simple metaphor for manhood, or a male's need to seek fulfillment outside of himself. Basically, it's all about the penis.
Upstart Productions Brian Wickowitz (right) bets big on his bird Joey Folsom in The Year of the Rooster.
That we haven't moved into a more sophisticated, gender-friendly world in 2014 is enough to send a modern woman into the doldrums. And to ask her to sit through an extended metaphor about a man and his cock on a Friday night might inspire the filing of a metaphorical restraining order. But what almost saves The Year of the Rooster from theatrical regression is its Dickensian self-awareness, even using the daily routine of male fowl to emphasize that there truly is nothing new under the sun.
Every day, the rooster (a gymnastically mechanical Joey Folsom) greets the day with a crow that sounds a lot like human speak for "Fuck You." It's not the salutation painted in children's books. It's an anthropomorphic extension of the protagonist Gil Pepper's (a dowdy Brian Wickowitz) dissatisfaction. Gil is training the rooster for a cockfight and betting the house he lives in with his mother (Constance Gold Parry). If you want to see some crisp acting and a damn good personification of a rooster, get your tickets now. I won't bore you with the rest of the predictable plot.
Upstart Productions' Rooster is the season opener for the AT&T Performing Arts Center's Elevator Project, a programming element that invites small, local theater companies to use the alternative spaces in the recesses of the Wyly Theatre. For Upstart Productions, this show marks a resurfacing after a wobbly period of transition from the care of founding artistic director Josh Glover to the new leadership of David Denson, who directs Rooster. Last year, they produced The Aliens (a female's take on male ego) and The Apartment Plays (a gay man's take on male ego).
This isn't a trend relegated to Upstart Productions; it's a prevalent issue in theater locally and nationally that writers consistently pinpoint. Earlier this year, Tina Parker, co-artistic director of Kitchen Dog Theater -- an exception to this phenomenon -- denied the possibility that this is a symptom of a lack of female playwrights. Notably, Undermain Theatre, the other mid-size theater in town with a female co-artistic director, Katherine Owens, keeps a fairly decent balance in male/female playwrights.
Eric Dufault's play marries a down-on-his-luck McDonald's employee, who eats chicken nuggets for dinner nightly, with the culture of cockfighting, where he hangs his ambitions on a rooster's victory. It's not without merit, but strip away a few clever cock jokes (the bully's name is Dickey Thimble) and Folsom's athleticism (especially evident in Adrian L. Cook's fight choreography), and you're left with a man staring intently at his cock and wondering if it's big enough to get him through life. And though the cast uses what they've got skillfully, The Year of the Rooster still feels overused and ... well ... limp.
The Year of the Rooster continues through September 6 at the Wyly Theatre, 2402 Flora St., No. 500.