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2016 Philadelphia Fringe Festival Review: ‘Happy Yummy Chicken’ at Love Drunk Life

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A self-referencing mockumentary on the process of putting together a show, Happy Yummy Chicken is the first full-length film by Love Drunk Life–a New Jersey-based multi-genre company that presented a charming live play, The Most Awkward Love Life of Peabody Magoo, in the 2015 Fringe. We hope it’s not their last. Written by Brandon Monokian and directed by Anna Loyd Bradshaw, the satire follows a pair of emerging theater artists inspired by an event they saw on the news to create an original musical for the stage. Through the format of newscasts, interviews, and an ever-present video camera, we watch the faux work evolve from its conception, through its funding and development, to auditions, rehearsals, and opening night.

Emma Myles, Katie Healy, and Diane Guerrero. Still courtesy of Love Drunk Life.

Emma Myles, Katie Healy, and Diane Guerrero. Still courtesy of Love Drunk Life.

Giving nods to A Star Is Born and American Idol, the hilarious parody lampoons the randomness of fame, the craziness of celebrity, the inexplicable phenomenon of reality TV stars, and the importance of being true to yourself, whether it brings you the unwanted attention you never sought or the recognition and fame that you so desire. The success of the film lies in its understated subtlety. Without overly exaggerating the characters (with the exception of one over-the-top rendition of “Oh My Darling Clementine”) or the clichés commonly spoken by the theater community, the media, and the public, the cast and team create a recognizable scenario with figures that are at once familiar and laughable.

Comprised of favorites from stage, film, TV, and the popular Netflix series Orange Is the New Black, the large ensemble brings spot-on characterizations to their farcical roles. Ashley Biel is Marilyn Spalding, a heartbroken young woman who holes up in the Happy Yummy Chicken Restaurant for two months to heal from the trauma of being dumped by her boyfriend via phone call (he thought it would be better that way, he tells her, since she’s “so ugly when she cries”). Cookie-cutter newscaster Cheryl Davis, who reports on Marilyn’s story and becomes increasingly frustrated by her unwillingness to speak to the camera, is played to perfection by Diane Guerrero.

Julie Fain Lawrence, Suzzanne Douglas, Erik Ransom, and Brandon Monokian. Still courtesy of Love Drunk Life.

Julie Fain Lawrence, Suzzanne Douglas, Erik Ransom, and Brandon Monokian. Still courtesy of Love Drunk Life.

Monokian and Erik Ransom portray playwright Brody McMillan and composer Matthew Mansfield, who document their creative process from beginning to end; Julie Fain Lawrence is the hard-nosed choreographer Lillian Thomas and Suzzanne Douglas is the (very) theatrical director Sarah Del Casserole, who work with them on the project. All four are equally side-splitting in their mock seriousness and priceless reactions to the odd array of characters they encounter along the way, including Taryn Manning as the salacious proprietor of an outdated hippie-style artists’ retreat in upstate New York.

Along with the terrific cast, the witty film features such clever details as a subscript of absurd headlines running along the bottom of the TV screen during news updates, and live music composed by the multi-talented Ransom, Joey Contreras,  Andy Peterson, and Michael Liscio Jr. (with additional songs by an assortment of other contributors).

Happy Yummy Chicken is an impressive feature-film debut by Love Drunk Life, which just might end up becoming an industry cult classic!

Running Time: 85 minutes, without an intermission.

Happy Yummy Chicken plays through Saturday, September 24, 2016, performing at William Way LGBT Community Center – 1315 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call (215) 413-1318, or purchase them online.

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BEST OF THE 2016 PHILADELPHIA FRINGE!

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