ADDED PERFORMANCE FRIDAY MARCH 2, 2012 — 7:15PM
Birds of a feather? Nobody has more fun dreaming up fantastically imaginative stage plays than nationally respected playwright, actor, director and Chicago based radio personality Matt Lyle. Nobody takes more outrageous delight in bringing imaginative stage plays to life with full exploration of their comic possibilities than Fun House Theatre and Film’s founder director and Texas-based professional performance artist Jeff Swearingen. Crack these two good eggs together in the same magical omelet pan with a multi-media children’s theatre work about bullying…what results is a hilarious, divine soufflé of creative expression accessible to young patrons and adults, alike. Flock together now: cluck, cluck!
Swearingen and his daring troupe of child actors embrace Lyle’s original work The Chicken Who Wasn’t Chicken with gusto and seamless execution at the Plano Children’s Theatre off Custer Road through Sunday, February 26, with two touring dates scheduled into March. Hope they find a way to extend the run. The play follows the adventures of a sweet but chicken (as in cowardly) chicken Mike (Jeremy LeBlanc) and his resourceful, self-confident sweetheart Polly (Kennedy Waterman) on the path to self-realization and love. They encounter a bullying pig and his ribbity frog sideman (Dalton Walker, Jack Waterman) and deal with the invasion of a wordless, lurching monster Woogie (Luke Flad/ Ben Herrick), a dopple-ganger for the StayPuft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters.
Puns, riffs, direct recreation and coded allusions to great moments and film characters from the past 75 years or so of film abound, weaving sharp comic entertainment with a whiff of nostalgia neatly into the plot. The kids may have no clue what momentous cinema history they’re re-enlivening, but the adults in the audience howl with glee and recognition. There’s even a film sequence halfway through the show, with Mike Chicken and Polly enacting peak romantic moments in cinema with utter sincerity and veracity, from Gone With The Wind to Casa Blanca, Annie Hall to As Good As It Gets.(You’ll never watch the “staircase scene” from Gone With The Wind with a straight face again, promise.) The entire cast of humanized critters throngs on stage to explode into “Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaireat one point, eliciting spontaneous cheers, clapping and foot-stomping from the thrilled audience. It wouldn’t take much to get the audience on their feet, boogie-ing down with the cast on stage. This ain’t your granny’s children’s theatre production, unless she’s one really hip old lady. Fer shure.
Besides all the fun (and why not have a heapin’ dose?) two aspects of this performance make it an endeavor of serious merit:
1) The message, loud and clear without being pompous and boring –bullying sucks!
2) The caliber of performance. These performers are all under age 16, yet their sense of timing and rhythm, focus on building believable, genuine characters and creating an effective ensemble on stage could teach some of the region’s leading Equity actors a thing or two about stage veracity. The performances speak volumes about the teaching and directing abilities of Jeff Swearingen, as well as the openhearted dedication and trust he inspires in his intrepid thespian troupe.
Performances of particular note: Madeleine Norton as Mike Chicken’s kindly employer Mr. Goat demonstrates an uncanny knack for physical comedy and comic delivery as s/he negotiates the story with over-the-top arthritic challenge. Joel Jenkins as Mike’s father, in full Darth Vader costume, manages to clearly convey elements of iconic Vader menace and a father’s caring attitude, at the same time, behind that expressionless mask.
Costumes, in primary hues (except for where film designates otherwise) add a whimsical, delineating touch to each character without covering their faces or restricting movement. (Tanya Paknejad) The minimalist, egg yolk yellow set by regional professional designer Joseph Cummings, a series of rolling upstage flats in wildly “random” geometric shapes, enhances Mike Chicken’s fantasy world and allows for rapid scene changes, no muss, no fuss. Lighting and sound design by Dennis Cutillo doesn’t miss a beat and keeps those major transitions and instant mood swings fairly popping along. As the final song, Huey Lewis and the News’ 1985 hit “The Power of Love” swells through the theatre, one has to recognize the intensity, dedication and cohesion of the team effort to bring this sweet, complex play off so effortlessly as well as feel how true that sentiment is.
The power of love is a curious thing
Make a one man weep, make another man sing
Change a hawk to a little white dove
More than a feeling that’s the power of love
Tougher than diamonds, rich like cream
Stronger and harder than a bad girl’s dream
Make a bad one good make a wrong one right
Power of love that keeps you home at night
You don’t need money, don’t take fame
Don’t need no credit card to ride this train
It’s strong and it’s sudden and it’s cruel sometimes
But it might just save your life
That’s the power of love
That’s the power of love
Catch it before it closes!
Two performances on the last day, Sunday, February 26
Special accolades for the film crew:
Camera/edit/special effects: Colin Kennedy
Sound engineer: Keith Dearing
Producer: Bren Rapp
Director: Jeff Swearingen