Finding the Rooster
nytheatre.com review by Jack Hanley
May 8, 2009
In 1972 Edith O'Hara founded the legendary 13th Street Repertory Theatre. For nearly four decades her company has been dedicated to helping emerging playwrights develop their work and open their plays in full production. Following the curtain call of Finding the Rooster, Ms. O'Hara and executive producer Sandra Nordgren stood before the audience and laid out the facts. They are facing their sixth eviction notice. It will be a difficult and expensive fight, but Ms. O'Hara is not backing down. I encourage everyone to please support this institution in its fight to remain open and continue its mission.
Considering the Rep's plight, it is unfortunate that I can't wholeheartedly recommend Finding the Rooster, a production that puts far more effort in delivering lackluster humor than exploring the profundity of a family wrecked by war. Set in 1965, we are met with a wealthy, New England family in a moment of crisis. Richard, a weapons manufacturer, has just informed his boozy wife Evelyn he is divorcing her and having their son Oscar sent off to a military academy. But before he's sent, Oscar must be disassembled, literally, by one of his father's technicians. Sawing away the boy will allow the military to reassemble him for combat in Vietnam.
Writer and director Terence Patrick Hughes effectively manages this (slightly gory) limb-by-limb undoing of Oscar (played ably by Dave Benger) and he hits the magical realism target. But its metaphorical purpose—which should be weighty, if not heartbreaking—is lost as it devolves into comic shtick.
Jonathan Harper Schlieman (playing Richard) and Kathryn Neville Browne (playing Evelyn) lack a singular moment of authenticity within the story. This is in part due to Hughes directing them into an over-enunciated, presentational style. Schlieman never deviates from a monotonously haughty tone, and Neville delivers her lines as if she's performing a solo comedy routine (using her fellow actors as sidekicks). It was difficult to believe this couple ever had a history together even though much expositional time is spent framing the state of their marriage. And, perhaps more importantly, a history with their son—whether troubled or not—I couldn't grasp.
Kevin Hauver, playing Pinkie, the progressive-thinking uncle of Oscar, thankfully brings some gravitas to the proceedings and gracefully attempts to deliver the terminal one-liners. When the uncle arrives at the house, he distracts the saw-wielding technician, and absconds with what's left of his nephew. Pinkie is a World War II vet, and Oscar adores hearing his stories of the war and the great literary figures he's met on his journeys.
Pinkie is a man of ideas, a nonconformist; and he's not willing to see the dreams of his nephew amputated. The two have a sweet and authentic rapport. Hauver delivers from his core a haunting monologue on war that transcends the presentational style of the production to our present; to our bewildered sense of how we got here.
However, these moments of fine writing and skilled performance are too few to save this production from its many flaws. Possibly, if the relationship between Pinkie and his nephew had been more the focus of the play then a more substantial and lasting purpose would have emerged.