By Owen Woods | firstname.lastname@example.org
THE sound of fighting roosters fills the air and a haunting rooster effigy stands center stage then sits on his knees. The comb atop his head and the wattle under his chin are blood red and his face holds sharp, bony features, like the skull of a great spirit, come to haunt those who stand in his way, like the face of an Old Testament angel with eyes that turn the mind against itself.
Roosters is about family. A family who lives in a high desert valley, stuck in a routine, awaiting the arrival of a patriarch who got put away on manslaughter. Manslaughter that occurred over a prize rooster who could win any cockfight you put it in.
Really, Roosters is about a young man who wants to break the chain and overcome the sins of the father. The only way to do that is to get rid of that rooster – the prizefighting Zapata.
Hector, played by Aaron Corona, works in the fields, works on his own physique, works on his rusted-out hunk of a motorcycle, and wants more than anything to leave this “infertile, whore of a valley.” Hector laments his existence; he dwells on the cosmos and his humble, yet insignificant place among the stars. He’s a young man who doesn’t know what the future holds and rather than be terrified by his own wandering existence, he embraces the confusion of the world and fights for what he knows is right not in the court of morality, but in the cathedral of the heavens.
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Corona gives an outstanding performance that is both nervous and confident, fitting the character who struggles with his everyday life in a seemingless but nuanced way. He delivers his monologues with ease and passion. Hector’s emotions run high as he speaks of his mother’s complicated, frustrating life and his father’s willing absence.
Hector was given the rooster by his abuelo, but his father doesn’t much care about that. Prison sometimes changes people, but Gallo, Gallo hasn’t changed much.
Gallo wants the prize-winning rooster who can fight in the air and fight on the ground. The rooster who can slice any opponent with a spur or blade. A rooster who remains a murderous and tortured soul.
Joaquin Rodriguez’s Gallo is a bastard, one who gets what he wants and is willing to pay whatever the price to get it. With the swagger and cool of a Scorcese gangster, Rodriguez’s presence on stage is unmatched – a grounded performance that contrasts the cosmic existence in which his character’s children live.
Much like her brother, Angela lives in the stars. She prays to St. Anthony and to God to give her the strength to fight and to protect her yard. She has a morbid curiosity that is both childlike and traumatized. Now in her early teens, she struggles with the rapidly changing world she lives in, and through prayer she finds a way to endure.
Played by Bethany McDowell with a childlike wonder, Angela is the angel of the story. Her innocence hangs on by a thread. McDowell gives her all as Angela, playing into the brat sister role who spends most of her time alone with an ease and grace that’s hard not to be impressed by.
The family Gallo left behind seemed to get along just fine. Juana and Chata enjoy the simplicity of friendship and a life without men. Dealing with their own struggles they find happiness in each other and the children. Though Juana is subject to her husband’s absence and rule, she wishes for something other than just the life of a gray old hen. She, too, wants to break the chains of the life she has been subject to and though her family is why she continues on, her family is also her greatest misery.
Taylor Anaya-Estrada’s Juana is a complicated character facing an eternal identity crisis. Anaya-Estrada’s performance ascends above just another downtrodden mother. There is a complexity that must have been difficult to take charge of, but no doubt she took charge and found a place that only she can fit into. She commands her dialogue and her character’s emotions. The complicated character she portrays is so long-controlled by Gallo, but now that he’s back her character undergoes a lambasting that eventually and rightfully invokes an end-of-my-rope outcry that fills the stage with a breathtaking performance.
Lizzie Wilson’s Chata and Luis Mateos’s Adan provide the comic relief that is so necessary among the family drama and dysfunction. They are the anchor points on which Juana and Hector hang, to avoid floating away into nothing. They are two characters that care about their friends and don’t mind pointing out their respective flaws. Wilson and Mateos give comedic performances that transcend the trope of the sitcom neighbor or morale-boosting buddy. They, too, are complex characters who willingly go along with the Morales family through thick and thin.
Roosters has Collin Wankelman, an in-house percussionist who punctuates the play with a score that forces the heart to beat on cue and also forces it to stop, to freeze. The drums and chimes control the rhythm not of just the actors on stage and the tone of the play, but the attention of the audience.
A primal pounding that taps into the caveman part of the human brain makes Roosters stand out among its predecessors.
Religious imagery and two Lynchian “Shadows” explicate the normal college play and provide a fresh experience. A finale crescendos from a cacophony of family drama and crashes into an eldritch nightmare, highlighted by a hymnal, Gregorian-like chant by Dr. Matthew Valverde. Faceless, almost alien-like angels from the void of heaven enter the stage in a left-field surprise that is not only welcome, but otherworldly and breathtaking.
Roosters has shortcomings in the dramatic pacing, actor’s volumes and in its choice of abrupt ending. Still, it rides the waves of its imagery and dialogue, in its themes and in its dramatic, but carefully crafted change in tone throughout. It’s a production that will stand out in the library of performances for its poetic language and its relatable characters and situations. Roosters does not dwell on the past, but instead tells us that the past is here to stay and we might as well get used to it for the future is strange.
Roosters written by Milcha Sanchez-Scott and directed by George McConnell is presented by Adams State University Theatre, with the School of Visual and Performing Arts. The play was originally produced in New York City by INTAR Hispanic American Arts Center and the New York Shakespeare Festival.
Adams State Photo: Trajen Bautista as Zapata