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THEATER REVIEW Year of the Rooster
by Mary Shen Barnidge

Playwright: Eric Dufault. At: Red Theater at the Frontier, 1106 W. Thorndale Ave. Tickets: Article Link Here ; admission free. Runs through: Feb. 6

The play's rural Oklahoma setting, by itself, is enough to prepare us for Gil Pepper's sorry existence. He lives with his slovenly mother and her ancient canine companion. He works at a fast-food franchise where his misspelled name tag identifies him as "Girl" and his manager bullies him. His most frequent customer is the local beef-jerky tycoon and cockfight mogul who also taunts the helpless one-eyed grease-jockey ( "You look like a Cyclops." ) Oooh, but Gil is the owner of Odysseus Rex, a rooster of exalted parentage, trained to attack whatever he sees—especially the sun, whom he greets each morning with a defiant "You big colossal ball of light and crap!"

We know what this bird says because "Ody"—as Gil addresses him—is played by human actor Jeff Kurysz, whose athletic-gear garb and nebbishy countenance gives him the look of a pug who just maybe could be a contender. Instead of the humor associated with such conceits, however, the trials of Eric Dufault's two doomed heroes engenders the uneasy atmosphere of classical tragedy. Any giggles at the word "cock" are quickly silenced by horror at the cruelty surrounding this blood sport: Odysseus is drilled for battle on a regimen of steroid injections and McNuggets—the latter designed to inure him to the taste of his challengers' flesh. His first match pits him against a surgically blinded opponent. Even the cage-bred farm hen procured for breeding purposes displays feet so crippled that she must be carried into the poultry yard.

Although narrated in a terse 100 minutes ( two "rounds" divided by an intermission ), our proximity to this entertainment invented, its promoter reminds us, by the same Greeks who gave us democracy, with its brutal imagery—not to mention the physical brutality of daggers slashing like sharpened beaks—generates an intensity leaving us no recourse but to watch in pity and fear as Odysseus gradually awakens to a consciousness beyond gladiatorial combat and Gil descends into the nihilistic anger of a trapped animal.

The play's publicity bills it as a comedy, but Carrie Lee Patterson's direction of Red Theater's five-member cast permits no trace of hee-haw caricature to safely distance us from the squalor of Dufault's barren landscape or the everyday suffering of those obliged to dwell therein. Urban audiences casually dismissing violence as a necessary component of our mythic roots would do well to consider the evidence in our own society of individuals ready to claw their way to the top after being called "chicken" for too long.

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