September 28, 2007
An extended wallow in a small space
by David Ollington
Playwright Greg Kotis wrote the book for the Broadway musical Urinetown (2001). Despite a darkly comic theme, the show earned a number of nominations and awards, and many in theatre credit it with restoring Broadway after 9/11. The plot: in a rusty, future city, the government has instituted a charge for the use of toilets — everyone pays to pee.
At the Next Space in the East Crossroads District, four actors currently perform a more recent Kotis work, this time a straight play, Pig Farm.
The action takes place in the cluttered kitchen of a pig farm. The farmer Tom (Chris Nielsen) enters, predicting rain by referring to “potbelly clouds” in the sky. He and wife Tina (Corrie Van Ausdal) maintain the farm. She wants a baby; he’s obsessed with work. Tim, played by the youthful and energetic Kyle Browning, lives with and works for them. In an atmosphere dripping with marital tension, Tom pressures Tim to complete a count of their swine.
“The day you count my pigs is the day I’ll call you a man, Tim,” Tom states.
Kotis emphasizes the difference in their ages. The dialogue between the two men sounds like father v. son. Tim announces, “I’m in for the night.” Tom retorts, “Nobody’s in for the night until I say he’s in for the night.” Tim admits that he stays to work because Tom “keeps me outta juvey hall.”
The close quarters and argumentative heat allow Tina to give in to advances from the sinewy hired hand, Tim, behind Tom’s back.
Enter Teddy (Matt Rapport), the “G-man,” a representative from the Environmental Protection Agency investigating reports of fecal sludge along the banks of the Potomac River. Teddy wears a stars and stripes necktie, a gray pinstriped suit and a gun. During the investigation, Teddy enters the kitchen to discover Tina necking with the help. Soon, the suit-and-tie man also makes sexual overtures towards Tina.
The production includes some brilliant design components. However, the performers maintain a tediously high pitch, making for a raucous, tiring event. In the first act, a knife comes to a throat along with a few well-executed stage combat moves. Unfortunately, this fails to manifest as a climax, as the conflict in the play begins at such a frantic caliber.
Kyle Browning demonstrates remarkable physical facility. He falls lithely and expresses an appropriate adolescent restlessness. He, like all the actors, would serve the performance more effectively by also incorporating quieter moments, stillness, and restraint.
Cordes brought out of the cast a strong rhythm. It races. This should afford actors (and us) the chance to take a breath, to allow for pauses and increased dimension of dynamics. They play the piece in a small corner of the ground floor of a commercial building. The close proximity should also allow the actors to play some scenes with more theatrical intimacy.
Set Designer Lucian Connole magically created space with a detailed and imaginative set. Through the screen door, we see leaves and a tattered picket fence that fade into an extended darkness. Though the left side of the brain knows the wall of the makeshift theatre is close, the right side believes that the screen door opens into a vast field. Connole put a staircase at one side of the set, and by having the stairs turn the corner into an exit behind the wall, he manifested an entire second floor that we see in our imagination. The stage set’s kitchen sink works; the water turns on and off. He cluttered the walls with rural detail.
Gary Campbell’s costume design perfectly denotes each character. Nielson sports mature farm attire, Browning’s clothes easily fall off, and Rapport’s patriotic tie places him clearly on the conservative side of politics. After Tina’s and Tim’s tryst, Van Audale enters wearing a night gown, identical to the previous one she wore except brown hand prints adorn it, along with disgusting smudges, as if Tina’s horniness allowed her to ignore the pig shit covering the young farm worker.
Jen Mays’ sound design begins with the traditional sounds of Johnny Cash, and transforms into classical opera, taking us on a journey with the play.
The producers have extended the run of Pig Farm. However, only a very small crowd saw the production Saturday evening, Sept. 22. The house is small, and the seats get hard. A suggestion: soften not only the seats in the audience; cushion the onstage histrionics.
The production at Next Space (512 E. 18th St.) runs until Oct. 7. Tickets are $12 and available at the door or by calling 816-803-3970. More information can be found at www.myspace.com/pigfarmkc.
David Ollington can be contacted at Ollington@aol.com.
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