New Cackle Sisters: Kitchen Chicken—homemade okayness

The Cultch is presenting New Cackle Sisters: Kitchen Chicken at the York.

The sing! They peel potatoes! (Photo by Charles Frédérick Ouellet)

New Cackle Sisters: Kitchen Chicken is inventive but not dazzling, an intermittently engaging form of theatrical folk art.

In the show, a cast of six prepares a meal of chicken and mashed potatoes as well as appetizers—all while performing popular American songs from the 30s. The music involves a lot of yodeling and harmonies from the two female performers, who are billed as the New Cackle Sisters. And the instrumentation includes everything from kazoos to a tuba and percussion achieved by slapping raw poultry.

The meal prep is just as eccentric. When the New Cackle Sisters peel the potatoes, for instance, one of them skewers a potato with a hand-held drill, then turns it on, rotating the potato at speed while the other runs a peeler along it as if she were working a lathe. Potato skin and chunks of potato go flying.

So this show is its own thing. And there’s a lot of amiable audience involvement: the actors regularly venture into the audience to offer up the fruits of their culinary labour, including crackers that have been individually kissed by cast members wearing mauve lipstick.

There are moments of near-virtuosity and memorable originality. As the Sisters sing a phone conversation, cast members hiding behind them offer extra hands, so each of the Sisters can handle a crazy assortment of props, including, cookies, cigarettes, lighters, and pencils. The extra-hands bit is an old piece of business, but they do it well here. And it’s fun when two of the guys inhale helium and sing a duet.

For the most part, though, Kitchen Chicken is underwhelming. The program notes about the company say that its aesthetic is “symbolized by the one-man-band trope—a jack-of-all-trades whose only real talent is the ability to do everything all at once.” What this means in practice is that most of the singing is okay, but it’s never really great: neither of the Cackle Sisters has much power. And the manipulation of objects never truly pays off. To slice the potatoes, for instance, the Sisters throw them at one of the guys who swings at them with an ax—but the night I was there he never hit one. So the bit is all premise and no pay-off.

The Sisters’ period wigs are terrible. Why do they have to wear them? And, although their vocal style, which involves a good deal of clucking as well as yodeling, is fun for a while, we get too much of it before the company changes things up with some hard blues and a touch of punk.

I think I understand what the company is after—there’s a kind of (increasingly) loose party feel to the show—but I’ve been to more entertaining theatrical parties.

NEW CACKLE SISTERS: KITCHEN CHICKEN Created and produced by L’orchestre d’hommes-orchestres. Presented by The Cultch. At the York Theatre on Tuesday, April 2. Continues until April 6.Tickets.


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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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