Not for the faint of stomach, “Chicken” is the kind of comedy that makes 10-year-old boys fall off their chairs laughing, hollering “eeyew.” But if sitting in a 90-degree theater and smelling raw squid isn’t your idea of a great summer night, the intriguing idea and the fearless acting may strike you as wasteful of both concept and talent.The setting is the inside of a broken and becalmed submarine. An incompetent mechanic, who doubles as cook (Jay Dunn), messes around with some meters and gauges, while outside odd noises (whales?) punctuate their day. The dorky first mate (the excellent Mikaal Sulaiman in a fat suit) says outrageous things in a little, hollow voice, and hangs worshipful leis on a picture of Elvis Presley. Their captain (Charlotte Ford) is an incorrigible and crude practical joker. “Chicken” is a play about fears: claustrophobia, squeamishness, sexual hang-ups, clean-freakiness. After a lot of “cute” business, the threesome settles into their after-dinner game of stupid tricks, where the person who draws the X has to pick a penalty out of a box. These papers read: “eyeball lick,” “wedgie,” “Fancy Feast,” (there is cat-food eating, just in case the squid-chopping didn’t finish you off), “striptease” and “suicide.” Ford, who is a remarkably accomplished clown (and seems to be entirely free of vanity) is especially good at these games, although the victims vary somewhat with the random drawings. Despite an author’s program note about childhood fears and living with self-defeating anxiety, the show seems to have nothing to do with this declared theme. It’s about cruelty inspired by boredom, too much proximity and the general weirdness of one’s fellow workers. This links it to the brilliant taxidermy show, “Flesh and Blood and Fish and Fowl,” a 2008 festival entry in which Ford and Geoff Sobelle (“Chicken’s” director and Ford’s real-life partner) also inhabited a bizarre workplace, laden with neuroses and similarly throbbing with need.
Live Arts Studio, Philadelphia; 100 seats; $30 top
Philadelphia Live Arts Festival presents a play in one act conceived and written by Charlotte Ford. Directed by Geoff Sobelle.
Set, Maiko Matsushima and Jebney Lewis; costumes, Maiko Matsushima; lights, Thom Weaver; sound, James Sugg. Opened and reviewed Sept 3, 2010. Running Time: 1 HOUR
With: Charlotte Ford, Mikaal Sulaiman, Jay Dunn.