At the top of Derek Chan’s new play Chicken Girl we are told, through a series of projections, about the evolution of the wishbone. According to this imagined folklore, at one time humans also had one. Used by birds to withstand the rigors of flight, in humans the wishbone evolved into our clavicles. Without a wishbone, we could no longer fly.
It was within the exploration of this myth that held both promise and expectation. Unfortunately, this central idea never fully took flight. Instead, Chicken Girl became a confusing mix of what the playwright describes as the collision of “three magical worlds”.
The first of these worlds is that of a young woman who, dressed in a chicken suit, hands out flyers on the street corner advertising her Uncle Chan’s fried chicken shop. In the second, a lonely man in an underwater lair provides nuggets of marine trivia, while butchering the meat for the chicken shop. In the third, a celestial being travels the galaxy, breaking occasionally for a rock song.
While each of these individual storylines speak somewhat to the ideas of familial obligation, of hope and dreams, it is all too fragmented. With a lack of an overall cohesiveness there is little opportunity for any real emotional access. It also leaves way too many unanswered questions, both separately and at the tenuous intersection of these three worlds.
Trying desperately to make sense of it all is a cast of four. As the title character, Amanda Sum provides the necessary millennial angst who is bound by tradition while dreaming of more. Marguerite Hanna goes all David Bowie as the twice named Supersuperstar, and while her vocals were less than stellar in her opening number she did settle later. Playing Uncle Chan, BC Lee is a hardened patriarch with heart, and Pedro Chamale is the enigmatic Submariner with an apparent score to settle.
While Chicken Girl’s story may suffer from too many ideas, the production design is out-of-this-world. Shizuka Kai provides an effectively whimsical backdrop, while Parjad Sharifi’s projections add layers of the cosmos with the recurring mythology of birds. Nancy Tam’s sound design is effective, and while her original works, in collaboration with Paul Paroczai, are largely unmemorable, they do find the necessary rock vibe.
An obviously personal story, in a recent interview with The Source, the playwright talks of having been influenced by the places, cultures and people he has experienced. He accomplishes this spectacularly in the mixed use of English, Cantonese and Chinese dialogue, but having context is everything. And while the company no doubt benefited from Chan’s insight as both writer and director, for those of us coming into the theatre cold, finding substantive meaning inside his disparate worlds is near impossible.
Chicken Girl, written and directed by Derek Chan. A rice & beans theatre production on stage at The Annex (823 Seymour St, Vancouver) until June 7. Visit riceandbeanstheatre.com for tickets and information.
[Editor’s note: this review was edited on May 27 to reflect the correct credits for sound design and composition of the original works.]