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‘Chicken Play’ is memorable expedition to faraway mythical village


chicken-play-promo-photos-2sGhostbird Theatre Company started its fifth season last night with Hanny Zuniga and James Brock’s otherworldly Chicken Play. Set by Ghostbird director Brittney Brady in the densely-overgrown primordial confines of the Happehatchee Center off Corkscrew Road in Estero, the play follows members of a mythical community of clay women where the aged give birth, the unwise speak in unintelligible tongues, and the wise counsel the community not to worry about traumas as they’re “nothing more than an inconvenience” in the broad scope of life.

The Chicken Play is not just a novel, alternative form of theater that takes place partially outdoors. It is an expedition to a strange and mysterious place in which audience members become fellow travelers chicken-play-promo-photos-1sto a land in which the rules are unclear, the people aboriginal and deeply emotional, the language strange and often incomprehensible – a place where song and dance regain primacy as modes of expression and self-exploration. And by virtue of its strangeness and the play’s otherworldly setting, the experience is evocative and memorable in ways that traditional theater rarely achieves.

The production actually starts well before the play begins. After gathering in the Happehatchee’s dirt and grass parking lot and dousing themselves with a generous volume of Cutter’s, audience members trudge down an uneven footpath to a gathering spot sheltered by a pergola adjoining a lily pond. There, they are entertained by musicians chicken-play-05Philip Heubeck and Victor Stephen as the setting sun bathes the surrounding pines, bamboo and banana trees in deep, restful shadows. Then with footfalls muffled by pine needles, grass and weeds, the audience follows these minstrels to a labyrinth, where four burlap-clad villagers embark on a twilight dance that ends with one of their members losing a baby in childbirth.

After the dancers depart the labyrinth, the audience chicken-play-06ssilently treks to the Happehatchee’s Peace Pavilion, which takes on the auspices of both village and sacred place of ritual. Here, the inhabitants come to terms with the trauma suffered by both the woman and the village while, at the same time, grappling with sex, childbirth and a constellation of other challenges presented by their daily lives.

chicken-play-07There are many highlights in the storytelling that subsequently unfolds. Kaleena Rivera delivers a soulful song early on. All four actors participate in gyrating ritualistic dance numbers that both explain and muddle the bilingual dialogue that purposefully stretches the limits of language as a means of communication. Leila Mesdaghi strums a mulberry colored long-neck, pear-shaped, tw0-stringed instrument called a tanbur, which many regard as the forefather of all stringed musical instruments. Katelyn Gravel sings a foreign nursery chicken-play-10rhyme. And Paulo Leon-Silva brings down the house in a scene in which he enters the pavilion as a skinny ten-foot tall, madly convulsing villager compliments of clanking drywall stilts largely hidden from view by the long bedsheet that suggests a flowing white robe. “Where are the cats?” he bellows. “Where are the damn cats? I’m gonna kill those cats. They’re always breaking things. Where are the damn cats?”

And all the while, shadows and looming darkness begin to envelop the saw palmettos, trees and semi-tropical bushes visible through the screening outside the Happehatchee pavilion, amplifying the spiritual and mythical elements of the play. Hence the reason of the play’s brittney-brady-104somewhat unusual 5:00 p.m. starting time.

“The production and the space are always in conversation, always informing one another,” notes Ghostbird director Brittney Brady. “The space complements the story.”

While the play is sung and spoken in both English and Spanish, the words matter little compared to the nonverbal methods of human interaction given to the actors by Zuniga and Brock in the play. Touch, glances, embraces, breath, song and dance take on much greater importance than in our own culture and society. As co-playwright Jim Brock observes, “it is a brittney-brady-107strange, beautiful, healing, and mysterious piece of theatre–just the very thing we need, the very thing that so many brave hands have made possible.”

Yes, as written by Hanny Zuniga and James Brock and envisioned by Brittney Brady, The Chickne Play is at its delicious saffron yoke a conceptual work that touches the audience subliminally and subconsciously partly through dance, through folksong, by the spoken word and by body language, and by the power of music and unusual chicken-play-11musical instruments.

For The Chicken Play, Ghostbird regulars Philip Heubeck and Victor Ballo composed original scores and perform their work live. Kaleena Rivera contributed to writing the melody to the lullaby that she sweetly sings. Katelyn Gravel of Bare Roots Salon & Apothecary designed hair, costume, and make-up, chicken-play-03building on the visual cue that what’s portrayed is a community of “clay women.”  The music, costume and choreography are orchestrated to reflect the earthiness of this village as well as the spirituality that lies at the heart of the Happehatchee Center.

“We are proud to have the contributions of local visual chicken-play-01artist Cesar Aguilera, who fabricated the masks for our play, and of craftsman Steven “Rusty” Coe, who fabricated our wooden baby,” notes Brady. “Not only are we thrilled to be collaborating with new artists, but also with individuals who understand our sensibility and who are willing to bring their considerable talents to our productions. We create stronger theatre because of their generosity.”

super-moon-04The sojourn to the parking lot after the play’s conclusion is as theatrical as the production itself. Not only do the actors take up positions with flashlights along the fire lit footpath, but the way is also illuminated by the rising moon. It just so happens, you see, that November of 2016 features a supermoon – with Earth enjoying its closest proximity to the moon since 1948 (an event that won’t be repeated until 2034).

ghostbird-chicken-play-1See below for play dates, times and other information.

November 13, 2016.


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