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This is Their Year

A Review of Hooker-Dunham's Year of the Rooster

by Eli Coughlin-Galbraith


Even today, many animal rescues will not accept roosters recovered from cockfighting rings. Such birds, so the theory goes, have been abused beyond hope of recovery; they know only how to hurt and what it is to be hurt. They have been trapped in a system of all-encompasing, inescapable violence for so long that they carry it within them.


As a piece of conventional wisdom, it’s depressing. As a metaphor for our society’s models of violent masculinity, it’s depressing and hamfisted. Year of the Rooster could very easily have been both. But instead, the play manages to ride this central metaphor through tragedy and straight into a darkly hilarious farce. I honestly did not expect a show about cockfighting to be so damn funny.


There is the obvious wordplay, everything you’d expect from a show about roosters and their trainers waving their manhood at each other. In fact it’s so ubiquitous that it seamlessly blends in with the flow of the script. The villain of the show is named Dickie Thimble - he’s the rich emcee of the cockfights and owner of the reigning champion, and he’s played by Harral Hamilton, who possesses an absolutely Shakespearean command of deadpan, nonstop dick jokes. Opposite Thimble’s dickwaving is Gil Pepper, the one-eyed schlemiel trainer of the underdog rooster who’s gonna beat the champ. Isaiah Lapierre brings a chilling calm to this role, a singleminded focus that takes every abuse handed to him and channels it into the abuse of an animal. One gets the horrific sense that if Gil weren’t hurting a rooster and telling it he loved it, he’d be building pipe bombs or stalking someone on the internet. And Lapierre also manages to show us Gil’s painful, excruciating humanity; it’s hard not to feel for him as he leaps up, touches the sun, and turns into a Greek tragedy, crashing down and down and down. 


Speaking of the sun, get to this show on time. You won’t want to miss the opening monologue, in which Brattleboro’s own stage combat expert and comedic wrestling star Cameron Cobane embodies a rooster and screams at the sun to come and fight him. Cobane is resplendent in black pleather and rage, twitching around the stage like a creature out of Jurassic Park and utterly unaware of the humans whose misery has redoubled onto him. He knows anger, he knows pain, he knows violence. You might not think this would ever be funny, but you’d be very wrong. There is something about Cobane’s conviction in the role - his brand of kayfabe, his ability to detect comedic moments and take full advantage without breaking character or even acknowledging his fellow performers - that leaves the audience breathless with laughter, even as we sympathize keenly with the innocence of this little ball of fury. 


The actual cockfight is also a treat, with the kind of brutal stagefighting regular theatergoers will remember from Cobane’s production of Macbeth back in 2019. Pro tip for Brattleboro theater: anytime you see Cameron Cobane starring in a show, get excited for some action, because he can’t resist throwing or being thrown around a stage and it’s always a fun time.


The cast is rounded out by Cassidy Majer and Gale Allen, who are in supporting roles; normally I’d get annoyed with a show where the men get the memorable monologues and the women are foils or enemies or love interests, but in a show that is literally about toxic masculinity and its projection, I think it works. Majer’s Phillippa is a snappy counterpart to Gil, achingly transparent in her prickly nature, and Allen’s Lou Pepper is a soft, dreamy sort of presence who becomes nightmarish at the drop of a hat. Both of them feel uncomfortably real, fully capable of deep-cutting cruelty and deeply in need of any kindness, which is exactly what the play demands.


This whole play needs a rehabilitation center. You come out of it aching for some softness, some compassion that doesn’t have further horrors lurking underneath it like a knife. It’s a good thing that the Hooker-Dunham Theater partnered with VINE Sanctuary on this one, because I definitely needed to be reassured that in the real world, roosters can be rescued, traumas can be healed, and it’s possible for the poor birds to live happy lives once they’re free of the fight.


Year of the Rooster is playing Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2pm. It’s $15 at the door, masks required in-theater. Audiences can make a donation to VINE Sanctuary and its pioneering work in rooster rescue in the lobby, or at For more information, look up The Rooster Project.

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