Friday, June 23, 2006

"Fecal Sludge, the Play"



"Pig Farm"

June 22, 2006

Shortly into the first act of this new Roundabout Theatre Company production at the Pels Theatre, I started thinking about “Urinetown, the Musical.” When the lights went up at intermission, I checked my playbill and realized why. The playwright (Greg Kotis), director (John Rando), and set designer (Scott Pask) of “Urinetown…” have teamed up again for this broad attempt at comic melodrama. Set on “A pig farm “somewhere in America,” Tom (John Ellison Conlee) and his wife Tina (Katie Finneran) run the place with the help of Tim (Logan Marshall-Green), a young man they’ve taken in from the local juvenile hall.

Overfilled with verbose clich├ęs and anachronisms, Mr. Kotis maintains the style initiated by Officer Lockstock et. al., in “Urinetown…” The difference this time is there is a much smaller range of characters to spread out this style of performance, nor is there a clever pastiche score to distract from the two-dimensional writing. The result, while engaging at times, feels like a stretched-out skit on SNL.

Worn down by the chore of maintaining a pig farm with 15,000 pigs, Tom is worried over the upcoming inspection and headcount from the “G-Man,” a representative from the EPA. Suspicious of the government, but not quite enough to start a compound in Waco, TX, Tom is worried about having an accurate headcount, as well as being discovered for having dumped sludge from his farm into the river nearby. Teddy (Denis O’Hare) arrives having come from the pig farm next door where the owner has been shut down for understating his own headcount. Tina has her own agenda, longing for the distraction from her solitude by having a baby. Tim is grateful to have been saved from the rigors of juvenile hall and longs for a life of adventure, though he’s not sure what that really is.

As Tom, Mr. Conlee has taken a notable departure from his last Roundabout appearance in last summer’s “The Constant Wife.” He solidly works the paces of this physically demanding role, never losing the deadpan delivery. Ms. Finneran plays Tina as a woman tired of the rut she feels forced into, playing each non-sequitur line with full conviction. Mr. Marshall-Green gives Tim the false street-wisdom of a mixed up kid who thinks he’s learned more than he really has. His seduction scene with Ms. Finneran is a clever demonstration of powershifts, even in overstated writing such as this.

It’s Mr. O’Hare as Teddy who walks away with the show. Speaking with the full force of the US Gov’t, Teddy cows Tom over the upcoming headcount. His physical acting, particularly one bit with a recalcitrant door, proves a man well-versed in his craft.

Mr. Pask’s farmhouse kitchen set is quite effective and functional, although some of the features required by the plot seemed to undermine the characters in the show. Particularly, when one of the kitchen curtains is disturbed, a cloud of dust the size of Iowa falls onto the unfortunate coupling. Otherwise, the mismatched wallpaper, cracking plaster and water stains represent that the house is as much of a pigsty as the rest of the farm.

As much as I laughed through the show, I left the theatre asking myself, “What was the point?” In “Urinetown…,” Mr. Kotis was sending up some very particular genres of theatre and culture. Here, while he may be sending up government regulation, he hasn’t really contributed anything new.

Update: Here's what Charles Isherwood of the NY Times thought. Frank Scheck at the NY post felt this way.


1 comment:

Ayun said...

I loved this play so much that I feel like taking a bat to Charles Isherwood. Like you, I laughed my brains out. I disagree with the Saturday Night Live references that pop up in the reviews - perhaps because I have no tv. I can't imagine that SNL is as subversive and well-crafted as this play.