Yes, Eric Dufault’s play “Year of the Rooster” is actually about a rooster. This becomes immediately clear during the opening monologue presented by Odysseus Rex the rooster. And Odysseus—played by Paul Diem—immediately elicits laughter. For all intents and purposes, he’s a man dressed in a dingy feathered hoody. But he’s also a rooster. Said rooster quickly gains your serious confidence as he challenges the sun to a bloody duel. This taunting of the sun continues, growing in fury, throughout the play. “Year of the Rooster” is a play about cockfighting, the people who dare to do it and the lives such, well, cocky behavior affects. And director Dustin C.T. Morris is pulling it off at Single Carrot Theater.
The nearly bare and minimal stage, designed by Jason Randolph, creates fluidity for the setting. The story moves from a chicken coop to an unkempt living room to a McDonald’s—where the play’s hero Gil works—to the ring and back again. Simple props take us there.
Truthfully, Dufault’s plot doesn’t sound as riveting as it is: A lonely boy who works at McDonald’s by day and raises (and drugs) fighting poultry by night. The plight of Gil is made tangible through the strength of Mathew Casella’s performance. Gil spends his days stealing condiments for his ailing mother from his day job and his nights dreaming of making it big—by way of Odysseus. Diem’s rooster is as terrifying as he is adorable. When he catches a glimpse of his reflection, for instance, he hilariously sees himself as a stranger and a threat. But in the vicious attempt to claw himself, we see his heartbreaking determination.
The other characters bring small town American stereotypes to life. Virginia House, who plays Gil’s mother, won’t leave her La-Z-Boy—not even to announce the play’s acts, which she does via a remote controlled chair and with paper signs. Philippa (Madeline Burrows), Gil’s McDonald’s coworker, has one goal of making it to Disney World so she can sleep with whoever is playing as Mowgli. Dickie (Elliott Rauh), the play’s villain as both man and rooster—Rauh also plays Odysseus’ rooster nemesias—is only as good as his last fight. Even though they’re all so easy to laugh at, this phenomenal cast makes you realize that this is someone’s reality.
Somewhere in America there’s a young man slaving away by day and training his pet rooster by night, all in the hopes of becoming someone. Chasing the sun. There’s another famous story about a man who goes after the sun, and in Odysseus’ most difficult hour, Icarus certainly comes to mind.
“Year of the Rooster” is making its regional debut through Jan. 10 at Single Carrot Theater.