- Pig Farm
- By Greg Kotis
- Directed by Ed Herendeen
- Produced at the Contemporary American Theater Festival
- Reviewed by Tim Treanor
Ultimately, I guess, this is a comedy. I can tell from the death scene. Pig Farm, though, looks for all the world like a modern Steinbeck story. Playwright Greg Kotis, who wrote the book for Urinetown, swaddles this play in outsize ambition and earnestness. “I hope [the audience] will…give thought to the food supply system [and]…assume a certain level of familiarity [with] the impact we’re having around the world,” he says in the detailed program notes which accompany the CATF playbill. Well, it is always good to hope. But the more likely byproduct of this play will be Urinetown-style belly laughs.
Tom (Lee Sellers) was once a man whose heart was on fire with life and ambition, and he ignited the soul of the beautiful Tina (Andrea Cirie), who became his wife. But now he is given over to anger and bitterness, working himself dry to sustain his pig farm. He shakes his fist at the government, at his hapless assistant Tim (Graham Powell), and at himself, for finding a profession the high point of which is disposing of pig manure.
Tina, a tough and determined woman who has shared years of bleakness with her husband, longs for a child like the Ocean yearns for the Moon. When Tom shows himself to be too bitter and preoccupied to father one, young Tim starts looking pretty good. The next day, Teddy (Anderson Matthews), a rapacious EPA bureaucrat, shows up hoping to find evidence of overfarming or underfarming, or the illegal disposal of pig manure, or something else that will let him close down the farm.
Does that sound like a comedy to you? Me neither. But how come everybody’s name starts with a T – including neighbor Tony and sub-agents Travis, Trevor and Theo? How come the actors, all of whom obviously know what they are doing, deliver the dialogue in a rapid-fire cadence more frequently seen in Saturday Night Live skits than on the dramatic stage? And what’s the deal with the interminable death sccene and all the blood?
Look: Kotis is obviously a playwright with immense gifts. He builds his story carefully, clearly laying out his characters’ objectives with a minimum of hokey exposition. His dialogue is sometimes plainspoken and sometimes poetic, but it is always eloquent. And when he writes to the point, the actors in this fine festival give it to the audience with style and panache. A scene in which Tom, having dumped a load of pig manure in the river during a downpour and then drunk up all the whiskey he could find, tries to order Tim to recount all 14,222 pigs will harrow your soul, and then break your heart. And Matthews, as Teddy, is truly the bureaucrat from Hell.
But the problem appears to be that Kotis simply can’t stop being funny. Funny comes as naturally to him as beauty comes to this astonishing little hamlet – no pun intended – where the Contemporary American Theater Festival is being staged. There is a major hole in a plot line involving Tim’s arrest. Kotis plugs it with a joke. The play ends with a little festival of blood and death gory enough to put the Molotov Theatre Group to shame; so much viscera can only be comic, and this is. Ironically, each spurt of blood interrupts Tom as he is attempting to make precisely the points Kotis extols in his program notes. This is, of course, deliberate: Pagliacci – sorry, I mean Kotis – here subverts his whole play.
In the end, we no longer care whether Tina gets her baby, or Tom saves the farm, or what impact we have around the world. We’re laughing our heads off, and then it’s time for a drink.
- Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission).
- Tickets & Schedule: Contemporary American Theater Festival
- Where: Shepherds University . Frank Center Stage . Shepherdstown, WV