Beware the Man Eating Chicken
nytheatre.com review by Pamela Butler
August 15, 2004
Beware indeed! The play opens in the home of the Smith family. Mother Betty Smith (Mikaela Kafka), her younger sister Carol Smith (Catherine Taormina), and son William (Osborn Focht) are engaged in a get-rich-not-so-quickly scheme involving a merger of flesh with flesh, more like a large takeover plot. The young William is being plied with many, many chicken delights prepared by reluctant chef Carol, in order to compete in the “The Fattest Man in The Universe” contest. Mom Betty, putting Lady Macbeth to shame, has two weeks to go, and she defies anyone to get between her and her goal of taking first prize.
Enter Captain Leonard (Christian Johnstone); looking for the suspicious consumer of more-than-humanly-possible amounts of food, suggesting an illegal pet is resident here that needs to be confiscated. He is handled by protective mother Betty, defending her progeny as any Mom would. Word is out though, and Albert (Cordell Stahl), self-described poultry mogul, comes sniffing after a financial killing, needing William’s help.
Just when he thinks he has a deal, Dorothy arrives to thwart him. She has an interesting relationship with the set design that I am unable to make sense of, but she gets a laugh. Who is Dorothy? How do you define a surprise that just isn’t a thrill? The plot is peppered with unpredictable misfiring and the ending feels incomplete.
There are worthy moments in this under-cooked comic escapade. Osborne Focht gives excellent lip service to William. Christian Johnstone, as both the Captain and his colleague Dr. Martin, has just the right take on these very different characters. Cordell Stalh shines with comic perfection as Albert, and gives probably the most notable performance in the ensemble.
John Peterson does an excellent job making the best of the story and keeping the action and comic timing at a brisk pace. The musical accompaniment is delightful, offbeat, and ties right in, thanks to Andy Cohen. Author Henry Meyerson is after social comment here and it’s an interesting premise with clear condemnation of American greed, deceit, and heartlessness in the face of the big buck. I’m just not convinced that the evening’s fare is up to his or our expectations.