Cockfight explores the relationship between three foster brothers on stage at the Storefront Theatre in Toronto
As the audience filters into the theatre space, beers in hand, I see that this show won’t just be theatre-in-the-round; it will be theatre-in-the-ring! A cockfighting ring, that is: with a white circle painted on the ground, posts surrounding it, and beer cans scattered everywhere.
Before the show even begins, Brehnan Mckibben, who portrays Charlie Chiavetti, a sensitive, somewhat broken man, is alternating between doing push-ups and stacking beer cans into a precarious pyramid. Do I smell a metaphor?
As the houselights dim, the audience is still catcalling and applauding with enough vigor to suggest those beers are starting to kick in.
But the hum doesn’t end when the lights dim; in fact, the actors pick up the audience’s energy and match it twofold. These actors are so full of life and verve — I’ve got to wonder how they are going to maintain their stamina throughout the run of the show.
Cockfight, is the painfully realistic story of three foster brothers, and their complicated, but ultimately loving relationship with one another. Oh, and did I mention it’s also about roosters fighting?
But the rooster — who the three brothers hope to train to be a cockfighter and win them millions — is only a symbol for what the story is really about: the true fragility of seemingly tough men. Their lives could even be compared to a pyramid of beer cans; they teeter, they topple over, only to brush themselves off and get at it again.
These three actors (Blaise, Mckibben, and Ehman), have such believable presence on stage, that I’m finding it hard to believe they aren’t literally their characters.
It’s hard to tell who deserves more credit for the existence of such meaty characters: the actors or the writer, Kat Sandler.
Sandler’s writing is sharp, comedic, heart wrenching, and original. She has created a dynamic between the three main characters that is raw, while keeping the dialogue punchy.
My theatre companion, who also happens to be my father, found that the show truly captures the concept that men sometimes display affection through aggression. Since he happens to also be one of three brothers, and a psychologist, he knows what he’s talking about.
That being said, the play did not feel entirely cohesive, but more like several plots pasted together.
It could do without the character Ingrid, played by Caroline Toal. The character feels quite two-dimensional, and surprisingly unrealistic compared to the others. She seems to exist solely to further the plot, which is achieved, but without any journey or significance of her own. With such fleshed out males, it is a little disappointing to see the only female character as so unrealistic and meaningless.
One of the most satisfying parts of the play, is an epic fight scene that occurs — and I won’t say when- but Jeff Hanson has choreographed himself a beauty.
The audience laps this up. They are laughing and whooping throughout this almost campy fight scene. I must say, I am quite impressed with the stamina these men must possess to maintain their energy through an exhausting scene.
Even though the audience finds this scene entertaining, there are undertones of emotional pain and resentment that emerge, reminding us that this is also a serious play. Maybe it’s because the characters are so darn realistic, but I find that even in the funniest parts of this play, I never once stop feeling for these three guys.
And then the show ends to a very vocal standing ovation. Both my father and I have the unquenchable urge to gush about every character choice, thematic thread, and symbolic significance immediately after. It is just one of those shows.
As we ooze out of the theatre, I look around and see that the audience is sticking around. They’re drinking more, dissecting what they just saw, and mingling in and around The Storefront Theatre. And then I realize, it’s not just about the play — it’s about the evening.
- Cockfight is playing at The Store Front Theatre (955 Bloor St. W)
- Performances run until June 28th
- Showtimes are 8pm (Thursday, Friday, Sunday and June 22nd), 2pm and 8pm (Saturday)
- Tickets are $25 in advance, $20 at the door
- Tickets can be purchased at secureseat.com or at the door
Cast photo provided by the company