at the Lillian Theatre
A small-budget play with unknown actors can elicit buzz before opening if a celebrity is attached to the project. In this case, veteran actor Bruce Dern is one of Chicken's producers. But it seems impossible to believe that Dern had anything to do this with debacle, other than financially. The world of pot-smoking, pill-popping young adults living in New York is explored in a script by Ashley Reed that is as sloppy and pointless as it is uninteresting. The acting by the entire ensemble is stilted and stiff. First-time director Wendy Guerrero exacerbates problems by enlisting an achingly slow pace and awkward blocking. Other than an interesting set, designed by Joel Daavid, and pleasing original pop music during the blackouts, the only redeemable aspect of Chicken is that the characters are somewhat believable.
Set in a rundown New York apartment in the summer of 2001, the first scene opens with Jake (Ryan O'Connor) and Alex (Reed) smoking pot from a 5-foot bong. They are interrupted by roommate Sunny—or Sonny, depending on which spelling in the program you prefer (Sidney Austin). Sunny, a New York University acting student, makes a barrage of disparaging remarks about Jake being gay and overweight and then begs Alex to take psychedelic chocolate-covered mushrooms with her. The trio of potheads have a fourth roommate, Crystal (Rachel Germaine), who takes an abundance of antidepressants. There are several unmotivated twists, which include Jake taking a job as a drug deliveryman for a dealer named Chicken (Raymond T. Williams).
The cast flip-flops from lethargic to shrill, with nothing in between. Yes, Reed and O'Connor appear stoned during some of the first scene, but soon the actors lose the spacey look, and their dialogue become flat. Austin as Sunny is loud and staccato, and that never changes. Williams gives a stereotypical drug-dealer performance. And Germaine provides no depth to the role of Crystal. But with a script this pointless, it hardly matters. Besides lacking any laughs or dramatic moments, the script is loaded with character inconsistencies. Reed's play is likely about a world she knows, which is the first rule of writing. But it doesn't help if what you know is uninteresting. It's a shame Dern didn't assist a small production of higher quality.
Presented by Bruce Dern and David Schneider at the Lillian Theatre, 1076 N. Lillian Way, Hollywood. Thu.-Sun. 8 p.m. Dec. 1-18. (323) 960-7774.
Reviewed by Jeff Favre