Cockfight’s Jakob Ehman (left), Brehnan McKibbon and Benjamin Blais ain’t heavy, they’re brothers.
After impressing last year with her SummerWorks swingers drama Delicacy and the cute-and-creepy fall offering Sucker, writer/director Kat Sandler adds another terrific play to her quickly growing canon. Dealing with similar themes of odd family formations and disturbing sexual secrets, Cockfight is darker and grittier, her strongest script to date.
Three adopted brothers who years earlier escaped a bad foster home now scrape by as young adults sharing a small, rundown apartment on the wrong side of the tracks. Mike (Benjamin Blais), the eldest and de facto leader, rolls from one pipe-dream scheme to the next, and the story begins as he tells his brothers - Charlie (Brehnan McKibbon), who's heart-broken and compulsively does push-ups, and August (Jakob Ehman), the youngest and most awkward - about his latest "investment." Mike's spent their beer money on a fighting rooster they will train to win illegal cockfights.
Presented in the round as if it were a cockfighting ring, the apartment quickly becomes a testosterone-fuelled pressure cooker as Mike defends his sketchy purchase. Sandler's rapid-fire, profanity-laced barbs are well crafted, recalling those of David Mamet, Tom Walmsley and George F. Walker, but infused with her own quirky sense of humour. As in her other shows, lines that express soul-crushing horror or sadness are swiftly followed by moments of absurd hilarity, and vice versa. She's perfected a volatile mix of drama and black comedy, and it's riveting.
The story also includes Ingrid (Caroline Toal), August's teen love interest who becomes entangled in the ill-fated transaction, and a mysterious street-level rooster dealer (David Tompa). Among the strong cast, Blais's cocksure sleazeball stands out, but Ehman's initially shy and spacey brother eventually emerges as the most intriguing.
The intimacy of the tiny Storefront Theatre and the decision to play in the round give this high-octane show extra punch - especially when a full-on battle royale breaks out.
Given the consistently high quality of Sandler's recent work, her plays might soon be occupying less cozy quarters.