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Theater review: 'Between Us Chickens' at Atwater Village Theatre

June 2, 2011 |  4:30 pm

Between Us Chickens-1NC Sofia Alvarez was still a graduate playwriting student at New York’s Juilliard School when “Between Us Chickens” got a staged reading (2010) and then a workshop at South Coast Repertory. The play is now premiering at Atwater Village Theatre with its original director, Casey Stangl, and three-member cast.

The playwright’s older sister, Amelia Alvarez, plays twentysomething Meagan, who, with her best friend Sarah (Annabelle Borke), has moved to L.A. from Gettysburg, Pa. Meagan parties all night; prickly Sarah stays in their apartment making a surprisingly good living through Internet poker. (It turns out her strategy involves posing as a little girl in chat rooms during matches to distract her male competitors, a large number of whom are apparently pedophiles.)

Then Charles (Ben Huber) crashes on their couch. The black (or at least slack) sheep of a well-off family, Charles offers Sarah a deal: He’ll pretend to be her boyfriend, show her the authentic L.A., if she’ll let him sleep in her bed. As Sarah thinks it over, Meagan bursts in: “I’ll do it!” The girls’ ensuing rivalry exposes a seismic flaw in their friendship: Each secretly wants the other to remain the misfit she was back home.

Not surprisingly, “Chickens” is a young writer’s play. Even its jaded view of human nature seems eager to please. The dialogue is natural, insightful and often funny (Meagan refers to Charles as a “mooching, dirty man-child”), but the story is contrived. Could there really be enough pedophiles in the online poker community to make Sarah’s scheme so profitable? Would Meagan and Charles, who seem venal and opportunistic, be that scandalized by what she’s up to? And although it may be realistic to show young people socializing online, it’s not very theatrical.

Helpfully, the chat room session in which Sarah’s double life comes out is projected on the back wall of the set. But then the audience, already in on the big revelation, has to watch the other characters coming to grips with it. Finally this plot, like an out-of-control ornamental vine, takes over everything, strangling the characters and the audience in its implausible coils.

-- Margaret Gray

“Between Us Chickens,” Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater Village. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 19. $15. (323) 644-1929 or www.atwatervillagetheatre.com. Running time: 90 minutes.

Photo: Annabelle Borke, from left, Ben Huber and Amelia Alvarez in “Between Us Chickens.” Credit: Shane William Zwiener.

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