“Year of the Rooster” is, in many ways, a hard sell. The moment you tell someone that it’s a black comedy about cock fighting, you can expect some eye-rolling and shocked looks. Thanks to fast-hitting humor, energetic performances, and sharp direction from Mark Pickell, Capital T has created gold from his concept, taking audiences on a hilarious, engaging journey through the dark parts of rural Oklahoma, presenting an almost Shakespearean portrait of the epic rise and fall of one of an up-and-coming cock fighter, played with sensitive humor by Jason Newman.
Jason Liebrecht jumps out of the gate swinging (at times literally), and doesn’t decrease his energy throughout. His twitchy, angry, and often psychotic performance as young, but promising, fighting rooster Odysseus Rex is truly original, and Liebrecht gives his whole to create an intriguing character. Some of the best laughs of the piece come from his interactions with various others, including the motionless dog as played by disheveled mop-head. His adventures are the stuff of Greek tragedy, and makes for an excellent backbone to the play.
From chick and a dude’s “Brass Ring”, to Capital T’s “Killer Joe”, to Hyde Park’s “Circle Mirror Transformation” and Street Corner Arts’ “Men From Tortuga”, Kenneth Wayne Bradley always feels like he’s at his best when he’s treading the boards of the Hyde Park Theatre, so when he first appears as the slick, but imposing Dickie Thimble, it feels like the first rain after a grueling drought. Despite spending time away from live theatre, Bradley proves he’s just as sharp as ever, bringing his unique sense of intensity and charisma that makes him infinitely watchable.
Julia Bauer’s Philipa is a potent morsel of pure spunk, a compact package bursting at the seams with sass and attitude. The moment she bursts on to the scene in the first act, she becomes a shining point of every scene she’s in. Her repartee with Jason Newman is delightful, her brash, aggressive attitude scraping against his antisocial standoffishness to create sparkling moments of bizarre chemistry. Bauer never plays it one note, however, injecting authentic pathos into the later stages of the production. Her surprise second role is also performed with aplomb, but to say more is to give away one of the play’s more humorous surprises.
In a year of intense and thoughtful theatrical experiences, “Year of the Rooster” sets itself apart by being pure fun. It’s also a star-making vehicle for Julia Bauer, a triumphant return to Hyde Park stage for Kenneth Wayne Bradley, and, indeed, Capital T’s best production in years. Pointed, dark, and original “Year of the Rooster” is sure to delight fans of Capital T’s past productions, and may even create some converts with its cutting, chuckle-worthy presentation.
Photo Courtesy of Capital T Theatre