None Too Fragile’s ‘Year of the Rooster’ is nothing to crow about

Prior to the start of each None Too Fragile performance they distribute a jigger of whiskey (this season it has been the top shelf brand “Proper Twelve”) to those in the audience who request it. This is on top of the complimentary adult beverage of wine or beer that you get when you first arrive. They also offer sodas for the underage and non-drinkers as well as some really good coffee.

In the case of their latest offering, Olivia Dufault’s “Year of the Rooster” it might be a good idea to offer two shots at the start and possibly a couple of bumps at the intermission. It is not that the acting is bad but that the show is simply a bit nasty and silly. There is a fine line between dark comedy and ill conceived vacuousness. Mean spirited contempt does not draw a laugh in my book.

Somewhere in the far reaches of the great southwest (possibly Oklahoma where normal laws apparently have not reached) the populace engages in what they consider the honorable and ancient sport of cock fighting. Matches are held on a regular basis and the entire community is involved or aware of this barbaric practice.

Gil Pepper (Daniel McElhaney) lives with his mother, Lou Pepper (Linda Ryan), in the solid home that his deceased alcoholic father had built. Gil (whose name tag reads “GIRL”) works at the local McDonald. In five years of steady employment he is still stuck in the lowest rung of the company’s hierarchy. Meanwhile, newly hired and ambitious Phillipa (Madelyn Voltz) has her eye on the freshly vacated manager position while dreaming of a trip to Walt Disney World. Gil works, goes home to care for his “disabled” mother, eats, sleeps and returns to work.

Totally lacking in social graces Gil apparently is an idiot savant when it comes to raising fighting roosters. From egg to full size chicken Gil has perfected a training regimen that includes steroid injections, mirror training (where the cock fights himself in the glass), copious amounts of purloined chicken Mcnuggets (a bit of cannibalism there), slapping the unruly bird around and hour long spins in the laundry room dryer.

From this daily ritual he has produced one pissed off avian ready to take on anything, feathered or not. This bird is Odysseus Rex (Rob Grant) and yes an adult man plays the chicken part along with Madelyn Voltz playing his feathered love interest.

Word of this wonderbird gets to cock fighting promoter Dickie Thimble (Andrew Narten) who divides his time between his beef jerky factory (second largest in the state) and his cock fighting contests. Dickie oozes slime and is a totally unlikable character with a streak of violence thrown in. Dickie shows up at Gil’s place of employment to challenge the young fighting chicken entrepreneur with an offer to put Gil’s rooster on the lower portion of the card at the next gathering.

Dickie later pays a visit to Gil’s home and upon seeing the megarooster decides to arrange a match with his own championship fighting cock. To make the contest interesting Dickie bets two eggs sired by a past champion against Gil’s house. The fight closes Act I as Odie kills Dickie’s champion bringing temporary fame and fortune to Gil but setting him up for a fall.

So where does the play fall apart? It really goes back to the script. Playwright Dufault spends much more character development on the rooster than on the rest of the characters combined. At the end Gil remains a man child, Dickie is still an a-hole, mother is still pathetic and needy, Phillipa is still a foul mouth pain. The only character questioning his existence and purpose is the rooster. It makes for a thin script.

The other problem is the language. While I am no prude I dislike using foul (or is that fowl) language simply for its shock value. All of the human dialog is limited to four or five words: the f-word, the mf-word, the s-word, the a-word and a couple of b-words thrown in for good measure. What little comedy there is seems veiled in contempt. It made for an uncomfortable sit and at over two hours (with intermission) a long one at that. While the actors give it their best shot they are limited by the tissue thin script that does not allow them to develop their characters or to grow out of their conundrums.

The collective reaction of the exiting audience (at least those who stayed past the intermission) seemed to be one of dismay rather than edification. We were not really sure what we had just witnessed. Even good acting cannot make up for a scant script. If you are brave come see this show and see what you think.

“The Year Of The Rooster” will be on stage at None Too Fragile (located at 732 West Exchange Street, Akron, Ohio) through December 18, 2021. For more information and tickets go to or call (330) 962-5547.

Concerning None Too Fragile’s Covid protocols they leave personal medical decisions up to the individual theater patron. Masks and hand sanitizer are available but not required. The same is true in regards to proof of Covid vaccination or negative test. They have medical grade air purifiers in each gathering place, HEPA filters in their HAVE system and they clean the space prior to each performance.

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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.