The Pittsburgh abode that is the setting of Paul Kruse’s new play Chickens in the Yard is home to a new sort of extended, nontraditional family: sixty-something year-old Joyce (Laurie Klatscher), a doobie-smoking, new age hip urban farmer, lives there with her adult son John (Joseph McGranaghan), his partner Tom (Alec Silberblatt), and four chickens, the last of which gets introduced to their flock in parallel with the arrival of Tom’s teenaged sister Abby (Siovhan Christensen) from their family farm near Latrobe. Tom’s been estranged from his religious, homophobic family for over a dozen years; Abby’s arrival, ostensibly to visit local colleges, triggers a reflection on how families are made and unmade that ripples across all four characters.
As in Kruse’s earlier play Walldogs, the story in Chickens in the Yard is fragmented between the characters, presented via a series of relationship snapshots loosely gathered around a theme. The play has a meandering center of interest: like a hen pecking randomly about a barnyard, its focus shifts between Tom and John’s conflict over whether to marry, Joyce’s sometimes tetchy relationship with her now-deceased husband, and Abby’s search for independence and agency, which makes it difficult to pin down precisely what the play is about. Nonetheless, Kruse has written well-defined characters whose personal longings feel palpable, particularly in the hands of this very capable cast.
Those longings are beautifully underscored by a haunting musical soundscape performed live by Morgan Erina and Ginger Brooks Takahashi. In particular, Erina’s wistful, breathy vocals elevate the play and free it from the constraints of real time, triggering shifts into spaces of memory and subconscious. Britton Mauk’s wood-slatted set evokes, without overly replicating, a yard and a coop, and Director Adil Mansoor uses that stage space fluidly to take us from scene to scene. There are nice directorial touches as the actors shift back and forth between their characters and (surprisingly credible) chickens clucking and skittering underfoot, chickens who mirror, in their own reluctance to assimilate a new member into their flock, the difficulties the play’s humans face in creating “flocks” of their own.
Chickens in the Yard is the inaugural production of a new initiative at Quantum Theatre, the Gerri Kay New Voices Program, which is paying success forward through support and mentorship of developing artists — yet another reason Pittsburgh is a fabulous place to make and see theatre.