‘Pig Farm’ Offers Louts and Buffoons, American Style

The New York Times

Printer Friendly Format Sponsored By

June 28, 2006

‘Pig Farm’ Offers Louts and Buffoons, American Style

Hmmm. Things certainly look familiar: this dingy kitchen setting, in a homestead somewhere far from civilization. The dreary weather outside. That big bottle of whiskey. The air thick with bitterness and bile. The sudden flashes of violence.

But wait a darn minute! Something is off here. Way off. Oh, yeah, of course. When the rural grotesques stomping around up there start yapping away, you instantly know what’s wrong.

They’re not Irish!

Yes, the stunted country folk on ponderous view in “Pig Farm,” the gleefully stupid new play by Greg Kotis that opened last night at the Laura Pels Theater, are not inhabitants of Martin McDonagh’s comic cosmos, that boisterous fantasyland where blood flows freely in time to the merry lilt of Irish brogues. They’re 100 percent American, thank you very much. If Mr. Kotis’s potboiler does nothing else — and it certainly doesn’t do much other than try the patience for two hours — it at least takes back the stage, for a spell, for the violent antics of American-born-and-bred louts and buffoons.

Whether Mr. Kotis intends “Pig Farm” to be a parody of Mr. McDonagh’s distinctive oeuvre is not entirely clear, actually. What does become obvious early on is that despite the similar trappings, Mr. Kotis’s comedy has nowhere near the smarts, the wit or the craft of Mr. McDonagh’s Leenane trilogy. The humor here is of a far more dopey kind, relying on truckloads of mugging and iterations of the unappetizing words “fecal sludge,” for instance. Powered by the frenzied commitment of the four skilled actors who make up its cast, “Pig Farm” careers around the stage like an interminable improv session for a still-unformulated sketch on “Saturday Night Live.”

The setting is unspecified, but we eventually learn that the farm of the title is somewhere in the vicinity of the Potomac. Morning dawns gloomily on the day appointed for the big pig count, before the resented arrival of a functionary from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The farm’s overworked owner, Tom (John Ellison Conlee), deputizes his hired hand, Tim (Logan Marshall-Green), a 17-year-old fresh out of juvenile hall, to do the job. Tim naturally resents being required to count some 15,000 pigs — pig by pig. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t resist much when, at the end of the long day, Tom’s wife, Tina (Katie Finneran), starts feeding him whiskey and making suggestive suggestions. Tina’s desperate to have a baby, see, and Tom is too preoccupied with the impending arrival of that E.P.A. fellow to pay her any heed.

Tom’s simmering resentment of the federal government clues us in to Mr. Kotis’s larger aim here. “Pig Farm” wants to poke satiric fun at the dubious excesses of the United States government and what he sees as the sluggish-minded, fat-bellied populace who elected it.

As Teddy (Denis O’Hare), the stern E.P.A. agent, starts nosing around the farm and into the lives of Tim and Tom and Tina, too (yes, all the “T” names are a running, or rather galumphing, gag), we are presumably expected to see “Pig Farm” as an absurdist allegory of the current government’s excessive interest in the affairs of its citizens. And when Teddy slaps down a pile of money and offers to take over the farm, Mr. Kotis seems to be making some sort of point about the government’s farm-subsidy policy.

But the satire is unfocused and crude, and Mr. Kotis and the director, John Rando — they previously collaborated on “Urinetown,” for which Mr. Kotis wrote the book and was a co-writer of the lyrics — expend much more energy on the mock-melodrama and the guffaws to be engendered by playing up the sordidness and stupidity of these hicks.

Inspired moments do not abound, but Mr. Marshall-Green and Ms. Finneran enact a deliciously wild parody of the heaving sexual encounter from “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (the Jessica LangeJack Nicholson version). The actors all have fun with the overripe, intentionally cliché-ridden dialogue, too.

“We used to be kids, Tom,” Tina pants at one point. “We used to be you and me down by the river, without a stitch of clothing on, bathing our bodies in the moonlight. We made the water steam with the heat of our love, Tom. We made it boil. So what happened to that love? And what the hell happened to those kids?”

Mr. O’Hare, the Tony-winning star of “Take Me Out,” is more naturally at home in character-based comedy. He seems moderately ill at ease twitching his way through the role of the stern federal agent, flying into random spasms of mugging when the flow of jokes in the dialogue turns thin. Ms. Finneran, likewise, is a game sport even if she doesn’t possess the over-the-top comic instincts to exploit fully the silliness of Tina’s cat-in-heat lustiness.

The burly Mr. Conlee and the lanky Mr. Marshall-Green play these silly games with greater abandon. Mr. Marshall-Green is particularly memorable as the hot-blooded youngster seething with desire, a bundle of hormones wrapped in a thick twang and undisciplined by any discernible signs of intelligence.

Eventually Teddy, bloodied by one of the violent rampages that strafe the play, staggers forward and blurts out a speech that is as close as the play comes to a cogent comic manifesto. “You think you fixed something, don’t you, Tina!” he says. “But the federal government’s not the problem! You are! And me! We’re nothing more than a belly, don’t you see!? A belly full of bacon?”

But Mr. Kotis and Mr. Rando don’t really try too hard to give us any real food for thought. Unless you’re partial to the resplendently vulgar comedies that Hollywood churns out to please the much-coveted adolescent-boy demographic, you’re likely to emerge from “Pig Farm” with the feeling of having chewed gristle for two hours.

Pig Farm

By Greg Kotis; directed by John Rando; sets by Scott Pask; costumes by Gregory Gale; lighting by Brian MacDevitt; original music and sound by John Gromada; production stage manager, Pat Sosnow; production manager, Kai Brothers; general manager, Rebecca Habel. Presented by the Roundabout Theater Company, Todd Haimes, artistic director; Harold Wolpert, managing director; Julia C. Levy, executive director. At the Laura Pels Theater, at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theater, 111 West 46th Street, Manhattan; (212) 719-1300. Through Sept. 23. Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes.

WITH: John Ellison Conlee (Tom), Katie Finneran (Tina), Logan Marshall-Green (Tim) and Denis O’Hare (Teddy).



This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 28th, 2006 at 10:34 AM and filed under Uncategorized. Follow comments here with the RSS 2.0 feed. Skip to the end and leave a response. Trackbacks are closed.

Leave a Reply

*Required (Not published)