Between Us Chickens at SCR
Friday I almost became one of those reviewers who irritate me greatly by leaving a show at intermission…but I swear it would have been on accident! Not only would it have been an accident, but it would have also caused me to miss the best parts of Between Us Chickens at South Coast Repertory.
After having a lovely dinner at Pizzeria Ortica (tip: eat there, get validation, and skip the $10 parking fee) my friend and I grabbed our tickets and were informed at the door that there was no intermission. I had not seen her in a while, and we were so busy chatting before the show that I did not do my usual perusing of the program. The show began, and later after the lights came up I said to her, confused, “That’s it? I mean, really? That’s it?” She said, “Um, I guess…” also visibly confused. I mentally reminded myself that Between Us Chickens is a part of the Studio Series, which is marketed as “eclectic” and “gives SCR the chance to extend [its] artistic boundaries,” and I figured the show was more avant-garde than even I expected. I was not very impressed with some performances in the first act (more on that later), so I left, disappointed that I was going to have to write my first scathing review of an SCR show. Less than stellar acting AND a story that leaves me terribly confused? I just could not abide. We were given questionaires to return after the show, and I was also confused that there was no one around who wanted my piece of paper.
One very “L.A.”-looking gentleman walked by me and said “well, THAT wasn’t worth the drive!” as he headed for the door with his even more “L.A.” friend. I sighed, as I agreed with him, and said to my friend, “I’m just incredulous that THAT was it. I mean, they were speeding through that dialogue, but still. Wait, what time is it?” My phone informed me that it was 9:03 PM. Only an hour? Huh. The lady checking our tickets said “an hour and 40 minutes with no intermission”. Something wasn’t right here. My friend confirmed with her program that our show was supposed to be “one hour and 45 minutes with one intermission” (emphsis mine)! We walked back down to the door and corroborated with the usher that we were indeed in the 15 minute intermission. I breathed another sigh, this time of relief, and informed the usher of the mistake and that other folks were leaving because they thought the show was over. It turns out the ticket checker mistook our show for The Weir (showing at the same time next door), which does not, in fact, have an intermission.
Hooray! I can still say that the only time I have ever left a show at intermission was that one time, in Austria, when I went to see The Marriage of Figaro at the Salzburg Marionette Theater. With no supertitles in English. And I didn’t know the material. And we had been on the Sound Of Music Sing-a-long Tour all day and were tired. Just go with it, people. Just go with it. I digress…
The first act of Between Us Chickens was very funny, and while the cast did an admirable job of finding the humor in Sofia Alvarez’s text they were not yet at home in their characters. I had been warned that this production was at a workshop stage and that the cast had only limited rehearsal time. I saw the very first performance so it showed, but they also showed their potential. Ben Huber seemed the most comfortable with his character, Charles, a jobless, homeless slacker and L.A. native, but really…we all know that guy already. Amelia Alvarez (Meagan) and Annabelle Borke (Sarah) appeared less comfortable in their characters’ skin, and more rehearsal time may help them to lose some of the “I’m Acting!” affectations they still exhibit from time to time. The first scene was missing the intimacy of two girls who had been best friends for years, and instead I saw the (unfortunately stock) words on the page as they spoke them. The speed of the dialogue delivery struck me as the most false for Sarah as she was supposed to be a socially akward shut-in who lacked practice speaking out loud to other human beings. Someone who spends most of their time chatting online would need more time to think when presented with real people. Her character is also written as “weird”, and I’m not certain if some of Ms. Borke’s behaviors are nervous ticks due to inexperience or brilliant choices. Regardless, that “thing” with her tongue happened enough to be distracting to me even if director Casey Stangl gave her a pass on it.
The cast shone so much more in the emotionally-charged scenes in Act II that I wondered if some of those scenes were allowed 10 times the allotment of rehearsal time of any scene in Act I. Ms. Alvarez showed more subtlely, Mr. Huber gave us a master manipulator, and Ms. Borke had the twinkle in her eye of someone who is finally beginning to “win” at life. The harsh plodding around the set (and the script) and one-dimensional stereotypes began to soften into more-real, believable characters. Sofia Alvarez’s story takes a turn towards disturbing and self-destructive, and what starts off as “Three’s Company”-esque becomes more of a cautionary tale.
BETWEEN US CHICKENS
by Sofia Alvarez
directed by Casey Stangl
March 25 – April 3, 2011
Studio Series – Nicholas Studio