'Egguus' hatches a cracked 'Equus'
Special to The Seattle Times
We begin with French horns? Yes, blaring at Wagnerian volume. As the lights come up, we are treated to Kathryn Rathke's terrific set: a giant egg carton center stage, a red velvet-lined egg chair stage left.
Towering above us and the actors are a tiered series of wire chicken coops, some with glowing TVs in them. The coops also double as half-price seating. Oh, yeah - and there's a really big chicken head upstage left.
"Egguus" is playwright Dan Savage's mock homage to Peter Shaffer's popular 1973 psychodrama "Equus." For those of you familiar with that show, just substitute "chicken" for "horse" and add lots of zeros.
For those who are not, here is a quick synopsis of the Savage version. Immaculately professional in his starched white lab coat - silver hair as sleek as a Mercedes hood ornament - Dr. Martin Dysart (Nick Cameron) is about to meet his worst mental case: a teenage mass murderer named Alan Strang (Jonah Von Spreecken).
Alan has personally dispatched and batter-fried 600,000 chickens, then castrated himself. Dysart's first sessions with Alan are sporadically productive due in part to Alan's proclivity for confining his speeches to recitations of Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham."
Yet Dysart is unfazed. Slowly (much too slowly) he unlocks the secrets of Alan's psyche and finds strutting around in there some of the best-designed chickens in theatrical history (courtesy of costume designer Kerby Genasci).
The cast of "Egguus" plays every twitch and turn with overheated earnestness. This leads to a few funny moments. Tina La Plant makes a short scene crackle as Ms. Dalton, an extremely committed chicken farmer, and Tinka Jonakova, as her daughter Jill, has a loopy good nature that gives her later seduction of Alan just the right comic balance between lust and friendship.
Yet most of the production, the first act in particular, feels odd and vaguely uncomfortable - as if we're watching aliens doing stand-up comedy. We know we are supposed to be enjoying extreme ridiculousness, but the pacing is so static and the characters so robotic, it's not clear when to laugh.
"Egguus" never successfully solves this problem until the grand finale when it moves from poker-face parody to inspired lunacy. Not surprisingly, a Rooster (John Kaufmann) and a Chicken Chorus (Lindsay Hunter, Denise Peterson and Allison Schumacher) lead the way.