Matthew Hennigar’s comically existentialist production ‘Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?’ throws us between questions that underline our search for purpose and the disorientating nature of existence whilst immersing us in the relationships we find on stage.
Hennigar’s Absurdist play reveals the surrealist depths our lives can descend to in the search for meaning. With uncertainty at its core, we are confronted with the question; how much does language define our world?
Each character in the play is a word in a joke. We find ourselves thrown into the darkness of each word coming into existence and finding one another, divulging new preferences, expressions and confusions. “Why”, played by the brilliantly lost-in-thought Dom Rawson, questions the absurd situation around them, pushing the other words to look for meaning, for more than the emptiness they find themselves in: ‘just because I felt it, doesn’t mean it’s real’. “Why” struggles with coming to terms with being an abstract concept and pushes the other Words (often to their dismay) to look for more, for the real world with an often-blindsided optimism and assurance in the notion that the other Words must risk their meaning in order to find it.
Questions of sexuality, gender, status and meaninglessness are all scrutinized, with particular attention deserving towards the wonderfully absurd scene where the other words gasp out in horror at ‘Road’, played by the quietly flirtatious and provocative Annabel Wood, coming to terms with a sexually deviant preference for being run over (After all, she is a road).
“Did”, played with intense derision by Gusta Matthews, brings “Why” back down to earth. She scorns the other words in sarcastic drawls of resentment, showing us how easy it is to hold contempt and bitterness in your heart when you feel defined only by the things you have done; by your past and not your capabilities. When you are "Did" you can never be ‘doing’ as she discloses in a moment of repentance.
The two “The’s” are played by Miti Shah and James Green, both of which undergo intensive existential crises as they try to understand their ambiguous sense of uniqueness. How are you meant to go on when there’s someone exactly like you already and how should you subsequently define yourself? The frenzied embittered relationship between the two “The’s” comes to its climax as they discuss their divided identity – which extends further as they meet the third “The” … When we meet with our competition, with our reflection, we don’t seek harmony and accept the things we cannot change, we live in anxiety and dejection; a theme Hennigar interlaces through each scene as we begin to see ourselves reflected in each absurd talking word coming to terms with themselves and their identity.
There are overtures of Plato’s Cave as the Words meet the other half of the joke, with a particularly impassioned performance from Molly Gearen as ‘Side’ who, upon realizing her existence is a joke, descends into hysterics, unable to accept the reality of her world and her loss of meaning she demands the death of the first half of the joke. She states she will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the ‘real world’ - that the real world doesn’t mean anything if it makes her existence up until now for naught.
A production philosophy and literature students will delight in. As the play comes to its cadence, the words realise they are not some great sentence, but a joke. With colorings of Becket’s Waiting for Goddot as these surreal caricatures wonder aimlessly looking for meaning. Hennigar and his dedicated cast have done something few student productions obtain to; put on a genuinely funny, layered and thought-provoking production. With impeccable writing and close attention to identity dynamics, we leave ‘Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?’ feeling not only as though we have watched some fiercely sharpened performances all round, but as though we are better equipped for dealing with the chaos of the world.