Theater Review: BETWEEN US CHICKENS by Sofia Alvarez (Costa Mesa)

by Sarah Taylor Ellis on March 29, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles

Post image for Theater Review: BETWEEN US CHICKENS by Sofia Alvarez (Costa Mesa)

YOUNG IN L.A.

For self-proclaimed losers Sarah and Meaghan, a post-college move to Los Angeles promises a total break from the past, if not fame and fortune as well. In Sofia Alvarez’s provocative new play Between Us Chickens, these small-town East Coast friends must face up to LA’s devastating fantasies of self-(re)invention.

One of SoCal’s greatest advocates for new work, South Coast Repertory offers an eclectic lineup of local performances in their spring Studio Series. Between Us Chickens, originally read in the 2010 Pacific Playwrights Festival, is still a work in progress; Alvarez’s writing is uneven and plot twists can feel contrived.

Still, self-delusion in LA makes for a gripping dramatic comedy.

On opening night, the young and diverse audience seemed to have a palpable identification with Alvarez’s well-crafted characters, seeking the elusive LA dream.

Valley Girl wannabe Meagan (Amelia Alvarez) employs heightened, dramatic gestures and interior focus to craft a perfectly self-absorbed veneer, but beneath the surface demeanor lies a genuine concern for her childhood friend and roommate Sarah. Hunchbacked and squinting from too many online poker games, pajama-clad Sarah (Annabelle Borke) couldn’t be more awkward – especially around guys like Charles, the confident couch-crasher whom Meagan brings home one night. Ben Huber’s charismatic character, born and raised in LA, fuels the fantasy of the city – and opens a rift between these two best friends.

What is perhaps most arresting about Between Us Chickens is its exploration of alternate constructs of time and relationships among LA-based twenty-somethings. So-called normal life, cleanly divided between work and leisure, with monogamous bonds and the steady drive towards marriage and family, is nowhere to be found.

Meagan works odd shifts at Urban Outfitters to preserve her nightly party routine; she returns to the apartment in the odd morning hours after yet another one-night stand. Constantly chugging Mountain Dew, Sarah makes an impressive living playing online poker; her prime hours of “productivity” are early in the morning and late at night. Meanwhile, the unemployed 29-year-old Charles gets by with a little help from his friends – partying and crashing on couches across the city.

This studio production is given a clean staging by director Casey Stangl. Sara Ryung’s scenic design – a hodgepodge apartment living room replete with Ikea furniture – is simple and functional in the black box space, but her costume design is particularly exceptional. Slutty neon tops, tight denim shorts, and slashed leggings, for instance, immediately place Meagan in the clamoring cult of celebrity.

In a city built on such acts of dress-up and make believe, will we ever learn to grow up? When will the fiction collapse, or is this real life? Although still requiring further development, Sofia Alvarez’s Between Us Chickens confronts LA audiences with provocative, if unsettling, considerations of contemporary Hollywood culture.

stellis @ stageandcinema.com

Between Us Chickens
scheduled to close April 3 at time of publication
for tickets, visit www.scr.org

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