Preparing food is one of the most everyday experiences in the world. Yet, seeing it happen on the limitations of a stage, a space that was never designed be a kitchen, is strangely thrilling. Kitchen Chicken, performed by Québec City’s L’Orchestre D’Hommes-Orchestres at The Theatre Centre, is a wonderfully madcap demonstration of this phenomenon.
The group has a long association with The Theatre Centre, helping it open its new Queen West space five years ago. In creating tableaux vivants (living pictures) set to themed music, they intend to illustrate moments that thrive on both precision and chaos, and both were completely evident here. There is no dialogue, but a nonstop spate of songs, and the story is a simple concept: a ragtag group prepares an elaborate chicken dinner.
Performing the music of the DeZurik sisters (also known as the Cackle Sisters), two of the first women to become stars of the Grand Ole Opry, duo Gabrielle Bouthillier and Danya Ortman sing beautifully in tight harmonies with completely deadpan faces, as if they are being possessed from within. The singing is often accompanied by tuneful clucking and impressive yodeling, characteristic of the historic pair. Other artists of the same era represented include Jimmie Rodgers and the Coon Creek Girls, along with some original music and arrangements.
The singing is primarily handled by the women, though other band members (Bruno Bouchard, Simon Drouin, Simon Elmaleh and Jasmin Cloutier) occasionally join in song, each in his own uniquely bombastic style, and the countrified twang of 1930s Tennessee radio gradually gets a more synthetically bohemian veneer as the night goes on. If there was one slight disappointment, it was that so many of the duets were so harmonically similar that they essentially all blended together. It would have been nice to hear even more variation on the vocals before the second half. This is but a small pinfeather to pluck, however, when compared to the sheer visual impact and energy of the show.
Combining an aesthetic of period rusticity with a stage filled with richly-detailed props, the setting challenges the band to concentrate on accomplishing an intricate series of physical tasks while producing its music. The dinner is cooked in increasingly fantastical ways, with ordinary household items becoming instruments, and food items becoming other household items. Potatoes are peeled via hand drill and cut via a game of ‘potato baseball’, where the bat is an axe. The chicken is ironed to perfection, and yes, even does a chicken dance. Flowers appear in copious amounts from nowhere. A salt shaker adds rhythm, and a pepper mill adds video. Shaving cream turns out to be sweeter than expected, and a fish tank holds untold wonders.
Through it all, the actors move as a connected machine, sometimes literally becoming each other’s arms. Not everything works exactly the way it’s supposed to, but that’s part of the fun, saving anything from becoming rote and making the successes even more impressive. Each new concept is surprising and hilarious, and one eagerly wonders how they will raise the stakes yet again in the next number.
There is mild audience participation, as this is a family meal. The performers do actually offer around their creations for eating, some of which look more delicious than others, and all of which may be dubiously safe for consumption. (Had I been offered something, though, I probably would have eaten it.) An example of each completed item is also lovingly showcased on a mysterious platter of food downstage, like an offering to a French-Canadian Elijah.
Everybody knows that the best parties always wind up in the kitchen. Kitchen Chicken is absolutely delightful, a visual and aural cornucopia of a down-home kitchen jamboree. It’s only here until Saturday, so I advise you to act quickly to see it. Run, like… some sort of animal with its head cut off.
- Kitchen Chicken plays at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen St. West) until March 2nd, 2019.
- Shows run at 8:00PM Thursday-Saturday, with a 2:00PM Saturday matinee.
- Tickets are $35-45 and can be purchased online, in person at the Box Office, or by calling 416-538-0988.
- The show runs approximately 75 minutes with no intermission.
Photo of the Kitchen Chicken company by Charles-Frédérick Ouellet