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The Chiavetti brothers (Jakob Ehman, Brehan Mckibbon and Benjamin Blais) are foster siblings that face off over a woman.

Zaiden/Red One theatre

3 out of 4 stars

Written by
Kat Sandler
Directed by
Kat Sandler
Storefront Theatre

Cockfight is a caper comedy by Kat Sandler that is cunningly crafted in its first act, then capers out of its playwright's control in the second.

The Chiavetti brothers are foster siblings who live in a grungy apartment. Mike (Benjamin Blais), hair pulled into cornrows and sporting ill-matching attire, claims to be the smartest and sex-savviest of the three. But while muscular Charlie (Brenhan McKibben) may be hung up on his ex-girlfriend and scrawny August (Jakob Ehman) may be a virgin, at least they are capable of holding down an occasional job.

Mike squanders his brothers' meagre earnings on a series of schemes – the latest of which is to order a fighting rooster.

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It's August's $40 that was spent on the cock, so he gets the naming rights, and chooses Ingrid, after a 16-year-old server at the restaurant where he works. So far, so somewhere in the dim-underworld territory that lies between David Mamet's American Buffalo and Lee MacDougall's High Life. But a compelling twist comes when Ingrid the woman (Caroline Toal) shows up at the house and Ingrid the bird isn't delivered on time. The stage is now set for sibling tensions to boil over as the brothers face off over Ingrid – and they will fight dirty in brawls well choreographed by fight director Jeff Hanson.

On a circular stage that gets filled with sand and surrounded by chicken wire, the playwright directs a sweaty and sinewy production in the in-your-face quarters of the Storefront Theatre. Sandler has premiered about two plays a year for the past few seasons outside the circuit of established theatres in town. (Her next, Punch Up, opens at the Fringe on Wednesday.) She has developed her own following.

Her well-made comedies have a distinct and up-to-date dark tone, poppy and profane, but they can feel conventional in their comic rhythm and, more problematically, characterizations. There's a lack of deep specificity to the Chiavelli brothers that makes them border on cliché.

But that doesn't mean that Cockfight doesn't mostly land its punches. Blais has a winning over-exuberance as Mike, while McKibben is charming throughout as sensitive Charlie. It is impossible to imagine anyone but Toal playing Ingrid: She fits the troubled teenager's impossible description perfectly. Ehman, saddled with being both dumb and socially awkward, can't quite make August come to life; while David Tompa as a late-arriving villain misses the right level of menace. I couldn't find the key to the narrative logic of the final scenes, but it was an entertaining rumble.

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