rice & beans theatre’s Chicken Girl starts May 24 and runs through June 7 at the ANNEX. Described as a surreal adventure, Chicken Girl follows multiple characters, including the titular character, Chicken Girl, who tries to uncover the mystery surrounding the disappearance of her Uncle Chan, who runs the local chicken shack.
Playwright, director, and co-Artistic Director Derek Chan divulges the inspiration behind the show:
This play is many, many things, but let’s talk about chicken: Fried chicken is my absolute favourite food in the universe. No contest. Zero doubt.
My dad and I used to be close when I was a child. He used to be an elementary school teacher. A typical, stoic, strict Chinese man from the previous generation who believes in hard work and good manners. Even though we were close, I was always a little scared of him, because he is my dad. When I was about three or four years old, my grandmother would watch me during the day while my parents were at work. This was in old Hong Kong, almost three decades ago. She would take me to the market, make me lunch, and watch TV with me until my dad came in the afternoon to pick me up. Usually we just took the bus home, and not much more than that. He would probably ask me about schoolwork, and I would ask him things like why the sky was blue. For someone who was a great elementary school teacher, he was not very good with expressing warmth to his own children. But once in a while, for reasons unknown or forgotten, we would make a detour before getting on the bus. And this place, let me tell you, was heaven on Earth.
It was a street-side shack that, in my toddler memory, sold nothing but a sweet variety of chicken legs. Sitting in a corner under the bridge where the bus went, the shack had all the chicken legs a child could dream of: steamed, salt-baked, soy sauce, deep-fried. Nothing but chicken legs. Full thigh and drumstick. What a feast. It was one of those places where the food will either give you a foodgasm or diarrhea. Or both. So for whatever reason, once in a blue moon, he would take me to this shack on our way home, and told me to pick whatever I wanted. Whatever I wanted. I would always pick deep-fried, and he would always make sure the hawker gave me the right leg of the chicken. As a left-handed child, that was crucial to my enjoyment of the ritual. Holding a right leg with my left hand meant that the skin (which is the only reason why fried chicken existed) would always face the right direction—my mouth. And then we would hop on the bus and eat our chicken legs in silent contentment.
Chicken Girl is curated chaos. Underneath the vibrant magical realism, a sense of existential dread and despair quietly simmers. I really wanted the characters (and our audience) to have a safe harbour to depart from and return to in this fantastical but hostile universe that is Chicken Girl. I guess that’s why I picked a Chinese chicken shack as the eye of this colourful storm that is Chicken Girl. It is a reminder that however tough the going gets, the chicken shack will always be there, tucked away in a shadowy corner under the bridge where the double-decker bus went.
Or maybe after leaving everything behind in Hong Kong for almost 16 years, I just kind of miss home. Maybe I just kind of miss something that doesn’t exist anymore.