CCM professor of drama k. Jenny Jones and a group of students have created their own modern-day Aesop’s fable as a Fringe entertainment and an amusing morality lesson. Much of their production at Know Theatre is exercises in actorly invention, and most of the 45 minutes are very entertaining.
Here’s the premise: A tornado flattens a farm in some rural place. Peter (Casey Leach), a young man and Pa (Lori Beth Barr) begin to rebuild, but the son has the idea that he can break the cycle by going to the city — either to make his fortune or to find some what to build a tornado-proof farm. He succeeds at neither; in fact, he’s distracted by all sorts of worldly things, from bars and race tracks to gambling and shysters. He makes every sort of bad choice and ends up in jail, from which his dad has to bail him out.
Threaded through the young man’s story — which uses actors for various characters, but also for props and scenery, such as the swinging doors on a saloon (where Aesop, played by Taylor Scruggs, is the bartender) and motors for cars (which are really wooden cubes) in a particularly amusing string of slow-moving traffic — is the story of a chicken, freed from captivity by the storm.
As it turns out, the chicken’s worldview is pretty narrow. Played by Sara Beth Tew, a wide-eyed blonde, she spends most of her time wandering in and out of the action, stopping to philosophize simply and eventually ending back up where she started.
Both threads of story are vaguely inspired, I suppose, by The Wizard of Oz, and the theme of “there’s no place like home” seems as appropriate a moral as one of the son’s final observations, “What I needed was right here in front of me.” In Jones’ director’s note, she comments that many of the paths we have before us are a gamble.
It’s great fun to watch these young actors find ways down various paths, giving this story texture and its own kind of reality. The work, according to what Jones told me in advance, is also a bit of a tribute to 20th-century acting teacher Michael Chekhov.
In the opening scene montage, the actors wander back and forth across the stage, waving to one another and others — while we hear snatches of a man’s voice speaking Russian and accented English. I suspect it’s Chekhov, or someone dispensing some of his wisdom. But catching that has little to do with Guns and Chickens ability to entertain: Just watch this as a good story, and you’ll have fun.
Performed at Know Theatre through June 6. See performance dates and preview here.