UPDATE (V): Our first weigh-in comes from the always exciteable Mr. Excitement. You can read his take on the night (and the show) here. And James Comtois, author of the great Adventures of Nervous-Boy, A Penny Dreadful weighs in here. Ian Hill has a lengthy and personal response to the show here that manages to cover several of the things I cut out of here for brevity's sake! And Joshua James is torn between his desire to like the play and the fact that he didn't real like the play. And Dan Trujillo muses about what happens when theaters don't give their subscribers what they were expecting here. Matt Freeman wants to talk about why this play isn't fining the right audience for it here. (we'll be posting more links here as more takes on the show come in!)
NOTE II: Interested in seeing the show? Well, now you can get discount tickets. Just use the code PFINTE to get 35% off the ticket price! Call 212-719-1300 or visit www.roundabouttheatre.org
I first saw Pig Farm in previews, on press night, with a wild audience that really got into the show. They really dug Greg Kotis' absurdist humor and John Rando's farcical staging. I wrote a post the day after saying I hadn't seen a funnier show in years, or enjoyed myself more at the theater in recent memory. So it was with some trepidation that I entered the Laura Pels theater on blogger night.
My concerns were thus: Would I like the show the second time? Would I find it as funny? Was it worth championing as I had? What would the audience's reaction be and how would it shape mine? This last question is very important. I don't know if audience's realize how much their opinion of something is shaped before they even go into the theater. Pig Farm got a very negative review in the New York Times. The impact of that on an audience's (especially a subscription audience's) reaction on a show should not be underestimated. Simply put: the house was set up to dislike the play. Most of the people there were there as subscribers-- fulfilling an obligation, getting their money's worth-- and not people who had thought about the show and chosen to go to it for whatever reasons. So how would their response shape mine? It's hard to laugh if you're the only one in the theater.
Count me relieved then, to say that while audience reaction was decidedly split 50-50, I still had a grand ole time. Did I still find it the most enjoyable night at the theater I had had in years? No. But this is due to (a) having the suprise taken away by seeing it again and (b) not being there on such a rock-n-roll night like the press preview I saw. I still completely recommend seeing it, it's a great show with idiosyncratic writing, skilled performances and finely honed staging.
Pig Farm is about a... well... a pig farm. Tom (John Ellison Conlee) owns the farm with his wife Tina (Katie Finnernan), and staffs the farm with a work-release boy from juvie hall named Tim (Logan Marshall-Green). Tom, Tim and Tina are all preparing for the annual pig count, a day when "the G-men" from the EPA come to count the pigs on the farm. Tom has to submit his own count. If the count is off, he could lose his farm. Once the EPA Agent, Teddy (the always awesome Dennis O'Hare) shows up, utter and complete chaos ensues as the four characters all try to get what they want. Tom wants a successful farm, Tina wants a baby (and doesn't seem to care who the father is), Tim wants Tina and his freedom and Teddy... well, who knows what Teddy wants.
That's about all the plot I'm willing to give you, as the antics that ensue are both surprising and somewhat incidental. The play's main purpose is to get you to laugh and enjoy yourself, and it accomplishes this with skill while not being cheap. Playwright Greg Kotis' wit and subtle subversion seem to know no bounds-- he is doing a parodic take on the typical subscriber show (of the Steinbeck/Inge variety) while mocking both big government liberalism and anti-government conservatism. He mocks the big city and the little farm country. And he does all of it through a sense of humor whose closest three comparisons I can find are Ionesco, Nicky Silver and Richard Maxwell.
Kotis' humor builds slowly through the creation of running gags. In fact, most of the text is in some way a running gag-- characters repeat the same phrases in changing contexts constantly, they'll repeat a phrase inserting "goddamn" in it, all the characters (and all the offstage characters) have names that begin with T etc. This means as an audience member you have to have some faith in the show, as it builds slowly to a point where the pot is at a rolling boil and the water is overflowing and you catch yourself laughing ridiculously hard. And he's not afraid to throw in some slapstick as well.
Rando's staging and the cast's performances underscore this. Although Denis O'Hare probably does the most comedic schtick over the course of the play, the play firmly belongs to Finnernan and Conlee. Conlee is quite the charismatic presense on stage-- large and shockingly graceful, with, as one audience member put it that night "totally awesome hair and beard"-- and he's able to play Kotis' pretzel-monologues as if they made perfect sense. Katie Finnernan easily matches up with him, able to play both the comedy and the pathos of the largely ignored but universally desired Tina. Logan Marshall-Green doesn't quite match up over the course of the show-- he overreaches at times, and isn't quite able to constanty relax into the constantly-high-stakes, ironic way of playing the text. He also doesn't appear sixteen for a minute, largely due to his low baritone voice.
Like I said, this second performance did not quite measure up to what I loved about the first. It seemed a slightly-low-energy show, paired with an unsupportive audience who did the cast no favors. That being said, I still really enjoyed myself and heartily recommend it. Is Pig Farm deep? No. But it's a ton of fun.
Also, apropos of nothing, I just wanted to quickly say that while we do bitch a lot about the Big Three Theaters in NYC, Roundabout did present two world premiers by not particularly well known playwrights this season. One was Noah Haidle's Mr. Marmalade and the other is Pig Farm. I count Kotis as not particularly well known because, although Urinetown was a big, Tony-award-winning deal, Pig Farm is a lot closer to what he normally does. They also put up the money and got the start power involved to mount a rather large-scale reimagining of Threepenny Opera. I didn't see Mr. Marmalade and I hated Threepenny, but it's just worth noticing that perhaps the picture is a little more complicated than we would like to think.
Oh, and also, real quick, to address that NY Times review (sorry, I couldn't help myself). The way you can tell very quickly that Isherwood either really doesn't know what he's talking about, is an obsessive anglophile, or just took such a dismissive attitude towards the play that he didn't really bother to watch it, is that he compares Pig Farm to the oevre of Martin McDonagh. Extensively. He even writes "Whether Mr. Kotis intends 'Pig Farm' to be a parody of Mr. McDonagh's distinctive oeuvre is not entirely clear, actually". Pig Farm has absolutely nothing to do with the works of McDonagh. It comes from a rich, quite American tradition of the rural potboiler, connected to plays like Buried Child and books like The Grapes of Wrath. It is a parody of, or riff on, lyical rural-American realism. The only thing it really shares with McDonagh's work is that it is tres violent. But the two authors have completely different sensibilities. So, I guess what I'm saying here is, I don't think that review is a particularly good way to judge whether or not you want to see the show. There are other reviews-- positive and negative-- that manage to engage with the material, and you should check those out.
Pig Farm, written by Greg Kotis, directed by John Rando, plays at the Laura Pels Theater, 111 West 46th St. For tickets, just use the code PFINTE to get 35% off the ticket price. Call 212-719-1300 or visit www.roundabouttheatre.org