Philadelphia Live Arts: Charlotte Ford’s CHICKEN

Charlotte Ford performs in CHICKEN at the 2010 Live Arts Festival.

Charlotte Ford in CHICKEN. Photo © Jacques-Jean Tiziou /

There are no chickens anywhere on the superbly decorated submarine on which Charlotte Ford’s CHICKEN takes place—no real chickens, and no metaphorical ones, either. The three intentionally awkward (but also superbly decorated) clowns running the joint (Ford, Mikaal Sulaiman and Jay Dunn) take each other up on a series of increasingly grotesque, even torturous, dares with gusto, preceded by only a brief protest each time. And CHICKEN‘s nimble creator-performers are even more fearless: It takes some guts to . . . well, go there. This is some of the darkest humor to ever hit the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival.

In the program notes, reflecting on the thrill of whispering alternate praise to Satan and God as a child, Ford writes: “What a titillating thrill—guilt, danger, power! To create my worst fear, and therefore be in control.” With CHICKEN, Ford controls the audience—for if there’s any chance of a chicken in the room, it might be somewhere out there. There might even be a few, as what seems to be a joyfully disgusting spin on Sartre’s No Exit aims to hit nerves you might not even know you had. (If watching Ford down cat food doesn’t phase you, don’t worry—something else will.)

Mikaal Sulaiman and Jay Dunn perform in CHICKEN in the 2010 Live Arts Festival.

Mikaal Sulaiman, at left, and Jay Dunn in CHICKEN. Photo © Jacques-Jean Tiziou /

But this clown inferno is also an exercise in the control of illusion. Some of the dares and gags come across brilliantly, many because they actually or appear to actually happen (eyeball lick!). Others, however, like equipment malfunctions on board the submarine, are less easy to pull off. But it is precisely this unsteady line between truth and illusion, between fear and skepticism, that allows us to alternately experience and observe what the piece is about.

CHICKEN (conceived and written by Charlotte Ford; created and performed by Ford, Mikaal Sulaiman and Jay Dunn and directed by Geoff Sobelle) premieres in the 2010 Philadelphia Live Arts Festival. With set by Maiko Mastushima and Jebney Lewis, costumes by Matsushima, lighting by Thom Weaver and sound by James Sugg. Performance dates and times for CHICKEN can be found here.

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