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John O'Hern is
A Rooster in the Henhouse
(© Denise Winters Photography)
At the beginning of A Rooster in the Henhouse, John O'Hern, who wrote this account of life as a stay-at-home hubby, explains that statistics confirm that women live longer than men because the latter contingent is under more stress. He offers this as one reason why he wasn't averse to the decision he and his wife Lisa, a woman on an unspecified corporate fast track, made some years ago that he'd be the one to put his career on hold and raise the child they planned to have. You see, he was an actor who wasn't bringing home as much bacon as his spouse and who couldn't count on a reliable income any time soon.

Somewhere in his explanation is an intriguing suggestion in these post-consciousness-raising days that, while housewives or (househusbands) may endure a modicum of stress, it is far from equivalent to that of their career-pursuing spouses. It's O'Hern's contention that he wound up getting the better deal in this marital arrangement and is to be envied for having chosen to stay home with the kids and the dirty dishes. Yet A Rooster in the Henhouse might well prompt a male variation on the old comment that "the lady doth protest too much, methinks." An audience member could be forgiven for thinking that if the guy is so confident, he wouldn't need to be make an 85-minute case for himself.

Let that go for the moment. By the time O'Hern -- a lean fellow with an Everyman face and frame that he's put to use in commercials -- finishes his discourse, he's made one point that non-stay-at-homes in the audience might be moved by: He insists he knows his son better than any of the working fathers in his community. He also illustrates to Lisa that he has impressed her importance in the household upon their boy. Lisa must concur entirely with his views since, apparently, she is the evening's producer and presumably wouldn't put her money behind the project otherwise. (By the way, the title A Rooster in the Henhouse conjures an image of female frenzy that has no part in the play.)

Interestingly, for all the talk of househusbandry -- if such a term can be used -- O'Hern doesn't stick strictly to his announced subject. Much of his chat revolves around his wife's (and his) pregnancy from conception to episiotomy and beyond. His report undoubtedly will be familiar and reassuring to many ticket-buyers. (The woman behind me kept saying things like "That's true" to her husband.) Certainly, no one married or single, parent or childless will fail to recognize how bulletins on a newborn's progress take over parents' conversations: All baby, all the time.

To O'Hern's credit, he doesn't withhold some of the less pleasant aspects of married life. He seemingly stints on no detail of his wife's delivery and his reaction to it, and he's extremely candid about the diminishing sexual attraction he and his spouse were experiencing just before they chose to conceive. In particular, he's very open about a practice involving hot tea that he made a crucial part of his foreplay. Perhaps some ticket buyers will already be up on this figuratively and literally shocking technique while others will feel that O'Hern's disclosure falls into the realm of "too much information." (FYI: On exiting, patrons are encouraged to take away tea bags.)

O'Hern has said that one reason he turned his experiences into a solo show is that he's always wanted to be a stand-up comic. Despite that admission, his piece is not especially funny -- pleasant and well intentioned, yes, but not by any means a laff riot. Only occasionally does he venture into what comics call "hunks." (There's an amusing one on conclusions he's drawn about God as a result of watching a woman in labor.) What he does well, and what attests to his acting skills, is impersonation. Throughout his amiable banter, he speaks as several Irish types he encountered at the neighboring Murphy's bar. He's particularly adroit at depicting the personnel with whom he crosses paths at the hospital; he introduces a no-nonsense Jamaican nurse, an agreeable Indian anesthesiologist, and a cocky obstetrician who participate at his son's birth. The sound effects he makes are also a hoot, the best of them being the thwip-thwap of an ob-gyn putting on and shucking surgical gloves. (In the program there is no credit for a sound designer or a set or costume designer. The unprepossessing short-sleeved shirt and trousers that O'Hern wears may be his own.)

From start to finish, O'Hern is always on the go. Perhaps to compensate for no one else being on stage, the raconteur -- directed to a fare-thee-well by Mark S. Graham -- never stays in one place for too long. Instead, under Greg MacPherson's ever-shifting lights, he wanders from stool to sofa to canvas chair and back again. This constant movement suggests an underlying anxiety that would not be out of place considering the topic under discussion. Whenever there are shifts in societal norms, people are bound to be at least somewhat anxious. A Rooster in the Henhouse isn't so much a comic turn as an affable call for understanding, encouragement, and disciples.

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