(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance critic Andrew J. Friedenthal.)
The line between man and bird has never been as thin as it is in Capital T Theatre’s new production of Eric Dufault’s "Year of the Rooster" at Hyde Park Theater through Sept. 19.
In an explosively funny play where a combative rooster (as portrayed by a grown man) is the most heartbreaking and sympathetic of characters, longing and desire are laid bare in a stunning performance of what it means to be human.
The Hyde Park Theatre is a small venue, which makes for an extremely intimate performance – almost uncomfortably so, at times – that highlights the skill of "Year of the Rooster’s" talented cast.
A pair of monologues by Jason Liebrecht as the cockfighting rooster Odysseus Rex, and Kenneth Wayne Bradley as fight organizer Dickie Thimble, sets the tone of malice and barely controlled rage that dominates the rest of the play. Both actors radiate menace in wholly unique ways, Liebrecht as a caged animal whose unfettered anger would bring down the sun itself and Thimble as a power-mad rural Oklahoma business magnate with a chip on his shoulder.
The scariest character, though, might just be the protagonist, up-and-coming cock-fighting trainer Gil Pepper, played with hilarious subtlety by Jason Newman. Beneath a small-time, small-town, Napoleon Dynamite-esque exterior, Newman seethes with resentment, bitterness, and a deep temper that is frequently brought to the fore by his mother Lou (played with quiet-but-creepy dignity by Austin theatre icon Lana Dietrich) and his young co-worker Philipa (portrayed with just the right mixture of verve and obnoxiousness by Julia Bauer).
"Year of the Rooster" is about the consuming drive to be a winner, especially when that drive becomes absurd or impossible and instead leads to mindless rage. What is so remarkable about this production, then, is just how strongly we sense the real vulnerability that lies at the heart of these characters as the powerful are revealed to be pathetic, and vice versa.
Director Mark Pickell utilizes the small space to remarkable affect, bringing the audience face-to-face with the actors and allowing us to be equally as afraid of them as we are afraid for them. The set itself (also designed by Pickell, and gorgeously lit by Patrick Anthony) is a marvel, massively looming within such a small space and bringing the audience right into what feels like an old barn. Of special note, too, is Lowell Bartholmee’s exquisite sound design, which creates a mood and a tone that keeps the audience immersed in the world of the show even during blackout scene changes.
With its heartbreaking and hilarious look at strange yet believable characters, Capital T Theatre’s "Year of the Rooster" is certainly something to crow about.
"Year of the Rooster" continues through Sept. 19 at Hyde Park Theatre. www.capitalt.org