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January 18, 2014

REVIEW Year Of The Rooster by Eric Dufault, directed by John Giampietro, Ensemble Studio Theatre/Youngblood

... the charismatic rooster ...

To put it simply, you have to see Bobby Moreno as Odysseus Rex, the fighting rooster:  it's as stunning a performance as has ever come along.

The others of the cast, with their highly individualized characters, are equally brilliant -- though, no doubt about it, Moreno’s charismatic rooster coming alive on stage has an unforgettable edge.  The play is good enough -- you have to love a play that offers this distinct array of characters.

We’re in rural Oklahoma where Gil Pepper is training a tremendously promising fighting cock, Odysseus Rex.  That’s about all Gil has going for him because otherwise he’s a wimp, pushed around by everyone -- Lou, his mother, Philipa, his co-worker at McDonald’s, and Dickie, the local Important Man and cock fight promoter (a lot of the humor and irony of this play is about big fish in small pond) who wants to get his hands on Gil’s cock (and if that line isn’t in the play, something close to it is).

All Gil’s strength, and his very manhood, is in his fearless rooster, tough, angry, ready to take on anyone and anything. 

With alert eyes, a piercing but unsettled gaze, snarling but vulnerable mouth and jerky movements Moreno is the rooster, bred to fight, nurtured to anger, puzzled by his own rage without losing its momentum, and with a soft spot, tragically overlooked.   Moreno doesn't need a "costume" but, wittily, his jacket gets some feathers looping over his shoulders -- in Western style.   

Dickie throws his weight around to get what he wants -- the rooster, and some valuable eggs Gil’s incubating.  Philipa, newly appointed Manager of McDonald’s, throws her weight around, grossly humiliating Gil, her one employee, continuing the relationship he’s had with his narcissistic mother.  Worthily or not, Dad, long dead, is Gil’s ideal, Odysseus Rex’s alter ego or vice versa, at any rate a source of the strength that gets Gil through to the big match, the climactic cockfight, staged all-out by Qui Nguyen, between Odysseus Rex and Dickie’s powerful old bird.   If you’ve never seen a cockfight, here’s your chance -- the feathers really fly.

The cockfight opens the door to a lot more enchantment, comic and tragic, before Gil reaches a pat but reasonably satisfying resolution -- after all, we are rooting for him.

Thomas Lyons as the schlemiel finds humor in broad type and stunning subtlety.  Denny Dale Bess is scary as the local impresario who, with the deep Western drawl, takes things to the edge.  Megan Tusing is amusing and convincing as the nasty mouthed Macdonald’s manager, who doubles as an over-plump chicken: at the risk of repeating an idea, I’d say you have to see Megan Tusing as Philipa.  Delphi Harrington is the lazy, self-centered mother who put lipstick and make-up on her little boy  (the psychology is a little simplistic).  

If you are anywhere in range of this play, you’re lucky:  you can see Year Of The Rooster.  Don't miss the chance.

Year Of The Rooster  plays in an extended run at the Ensemble Theater on Manhattan's west side through February 1, 2014.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

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This is unique and wonderful theater. The whole ensemble was overwhelming, especially Oedipus Rex. Of the many themes which are articulated, the contrast between old and new culture I found of most interest. The playwright makes the point that cockfighting the centuries-old – goes back to classic Greece. We have this relatively grizzly fight to the death, activity contrasted with the, to me, mundane, sanitized, and superficial activities of the 21st century – Disney World and McDonald’s. This is a work on many levels which resonates with the human condition- real art

I'm glad you brought up the cultural critique -- amusing, soft spoken in this play but active. Thanks!

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