Cockfighting might seem like an inappropriate subject for a comedy, but not when Sally Wood and Keith Powell Beyland are involved.
The two are the principal creative brains behind Dramatic Repertory Company, which stages the play “The Year of the Rooster” beginning Friday at the Studio Theater at Portland Stage. It’s set in Oklahoma and features the perpetual loser Gil, who sees the only way out of his dead-end job at McDonald’s is by training his rooster to become the best cockfighter on the circuit. He bets everything on his barnyard battler and comes to realize that victory and revenge aren’t everything he hoped they would be.
“It’s a very rough play,” said Wood, who directs a cast of five. “And it’s fiercely funny.”
Written by Olivia Dufault, “The Year of the Rooster” is about dreaming big and daring to imagine another life for yourself.
But it’s a coarse play, with many rough edges, including language “that would make a trucker blush. But it’s funny and it’s smart and very, very witty,” Wood said.
The Dramatic Repertory production is the New England premiere. The play has had 13 other productions since its national premiere in late 2013.
Dramatic Rep had another play lined up for this slot, but changed plans because of casting concerns. Wood discovered “The Year of the Rooster” in an anthology of new plays and pitched it to Beyland, the theater’s founder and artistic director.
“As soon I read this one, I remember saying out loud, ‘Yes, this is it,’ ” Wood said. “There was something about the humor, the fast pace of the show and that it was a world I knew nothing about.”
A world, she added, that she finds offensive. There’s nothing about cockfighting that’s appealing, she said, but she liked this script because of the story and the struggles of the complex characters. The cast includes Kip Davis, Allie Freed, Christopher Holt, Erik Moody and Amy Roche.
Moody plays a rooster – and doesn’t wear a chicken suit.
Dramatic Repertory Company has operated with an irregular schedule since 2015, when Beyland suffered a stroke. He’s been working his way back, and this play signals a return to a more consistent schedule. The troupe will present “False Flag” in June and resume its usual three-play season in the fall.
Related to its return to regularity, the compant also recently recruited a new five-member board of directors to help guide it going forward. The board includes several players in Portland’s theater community: Bess Welden, Meg A. Anderson, Peter Brown, Marjorie Gallant and Wood.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday; 7:30 p.m. March 15-18
WHERE: Studio theater, Portland Stage Company, 25A Forest Ave., Portland
HOW MUCH: $20 and $35