THEATER REVIEW: “The Book Of The Dun Cow” quacks like a duck, but director disagrees

Robert Smyth, director of “The Book Of The Dun Cow,” comes out before the show to say that this show is not allegorical but rather a “ripping good yarn.”

He then proceeds to give us a story that has plenty of color and pizzazz, but sure looks a lot like an allegory – or at the very least a parable – with obvious biblical overtones and message.

“The Book Of The Dun Cow,” first presented here in 1988, was adapted by Smyth and Lamb’s staffer Kerry Meads from the award-winning novel by Walter Wangerin Jr., who in turn used characters from Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales.”

Set “a long time ago” – before humans – in the domain of a rooster, the characters are animals or birds, beginning with the strutting rooster Chauntecleer (Lance Arthur Smith), whose kingdom is menaced by an enormous (unseen) Wyrm who inhabits the underworld and wants to terrorize the upstairs realm.

Wyrm finds an unwitting ally in Senex, a rooster from a different kingdom. A sinister mutant son named Cockatrice (Patrick J. Duffy) is magically produced, who will march on Chauntecleer’s kingdom with his murderous band of Basilisks.

Aside from the magic, it sounds both biblical and distressingly contemporary, doesn’t it?

There are some fine acting turns. In a small role, Caitie Grady impresses as Beryl, a hen who both talks and clucks most fetchingly.

Smith’s Chauntecleer is fine as the Moses character, wondering why he’s been chosen to lead this disparate band. Smith is nicely complemented by Season Duffy’s pensive Pertelote the hen.

Bryan Barbarin plays Mundo Cani Dog, aka Jesus, with all the lovability one expects of a hound, though he howls “Maroooooooned” more than necessary.

But Jesse Abeel steals the show with his roller-sneakered, Cockney-accented Weasel, and makes an odd if endearing couple with Cynthia Gerber’s Wee Widow Mouse.

David Cochran Heath is excellent as narrator Lord Russell Fox, and Kathleen Calvin dances beautifully as the wordless Dun Cow, an apparent emissary from the Creator.

This is a fine technical production. Jeanne Reith’s fabulously imaginative animal costumes and Colleen Kollar Smith’s lovely choreography make for a visually interesting production, and Deborah Gilmour Smyth’s original music haunts and inspires. There’s even an impressive aerial battle between Chauntecleer and Cockatrice.

It’s an old story, and if the adapters hadn’t been so intent on doing what they said they weren’t doing, I might have found it easier to enjoy.

The details

“The Book Of The Dun Cow” plays through May 15 at Lamb’s Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Ave. in Coronado.

Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; matinees Saturday at 4 and Sunday at 2 pm.

For tickets call (619) 437-6000 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.