Plucked is a barnyard fable declaring the high ground on animal cruelty, a sermon on cycles of violence from bird to child to wife. However, like PETA’s performative little cousin, this show lacks nuance. The physical theatre is exemplary and thoughtful. The youngest child, Rudi, puts on a breathtaking performance. However, it’s hard to get past the overly simplistic script.
A sermon on cycles of violence
The show follows a family who owns a chicken farm. The gruff pragmatic father asserts that he has little choice when it comes to his work. He did not grow up with privilege and sees this as a way to make a good living. As the show progresses, he uses more industrialised methods of farming which the mother and daughter fear are inhumane. The youngest, Rudi, has left her toddler years behind but she still is unable to make a peep. Oddly, there is no discussion of whether this is a legitimate mental or physical impairment. Rather, the mother seems to believe that the child is “giving me the silent treatment since birth” while the brother believes that she’s just a bit “thick.”
Rudi, has a commanding stage presence. Her eyes search and strain across the audience. The energy contained in communicating without words casts a spell. She is also an accomplished dancer. She often dances with the chickens who mimic her subjugation and distress. The shapes created with her body pair nicely with the evocative diamond mesh chicken wire set pieces. The movement director deserves a commendation. The performers expertly employ shape, dimension, level, tempo and space to suggest a barnyard nightmare.
Some of the actors fall short in their ability to clearly articulate their inner motivations and relationships with another. The father figure is low energy and ill-defined, a mere suggestion of a man. The brother’s cruelty lacks dimension or the rich psychology to explain his interior life. However, the mother is far more alive, articulate and specific in her point of view.
Unfortunately, her character embodies an internalised misogyny that is neither revelatory nor insightful. The mother tells her daughter, “we’re not tough like them” (in reference to the men of the household). She doesn’t work or occupy any role outside the women’s sphere and is treated as worrisome and unimportant by her husband, She even refers to herself as “fragile”, “delicate”, and “breakable”. While she does make a half-hearted attempt to stand up to her husband’s treatment of animals, she never comes to the point of empowerment. The question remains, “why did she even marry him?”
It is unclear whether the show’s aim is to keep people from eating meat, killing animals, or using industrialised forms of slaughter. Ultimately the lacklustre performance and vague script, leave much to be desired. While there are compelling moments by mother and daughter and evocative, surreal dance movement pieces, this narrative is so tired and preachy, it borders on propaganda.