Misbegotten marriages, scripts
“Pig Farm” wants very badly to be a modern comedy. It’s full of violent slapstick, stereotypical characters, and sex—all the things that would seem to be a prescription for a laugh-a-minute romp through the process of slaughtering pigs. There’s sure plenty of blood and lots of screaming and irrational behavior, as if some producer said, “Blood and senseless violence are hot! Get me ‘The Lieutenant of Innishmore,’ but set in rural America rather than a remote island off Ireland.”
Would that it were so easy to create viable theater. With the exception of the game cast, “Pig Farm” is an offensive mess on nearly every level; hostile and cynical, it is out of keeping with Roundabout’s usual fare. Greg Kotis’ script tells the story of Tom (John Ellison Conlee) and Tina (Katie Finneran), the owners of a pig farm—ignorant hayseeds with conspiracy theories—who are being audited by the government. They send Tim (Logan Marshall-Green), the juvenile offender they’ve saved from a prison farm, to count the pigs. Apparently, the count is important to the federal inspector, Teddy (Dennis O’Hare), who is arriving to oversee the count and who holds the fate of the farm in his hands. Tom and Tina have marital problems, so Tina screws the randy Tim. Meanwhile, Teddy arrives and things go badly. There is a lot of death and bloodshed, and not just among the pigs. Tom and Tina appear to save their marriage as Tim and Teddy lie brutally murdered. At least that’s the best I can do with the plot summary. Kotis is incapable of writing a coherent scene, creating a believable character, or building a story. Instead, he showboats with sex that’s supposed to be a parody of passion, ear splitting screaming, and gratuitous, bloody death scenes. The sight gags, blood, and interminable, juvenile ending would be infuriating if it weren’t so boring. A good third of the audience at the performance I saw left at intermission; they missed nothing.
While it’s perfectly clear that this is supposed to be a satire of government intervention in our lives does it have to bore to death to make a point?
Given how little could be done with this script, director John Rando opts to distract the audience from its vacuity. The production is manic on the order of Looney Tunes, but it never feels anything but labored. The cast really tries. They’ve been written and directed to be two-dimensional, and Conlee and Finneran do their best to deliver, but for the most part they are just grating. Marshall-Green tries valiantly to pass for 17, and is appropriately out of control for most of the play, but in the end this is not a stellar outing for him. Denis O’Hare fares better, but mostly relies on his inherent quirky comic ability, rather than creating a character. He’s always a pleasure to watch, though, even when he’s doing it on autopilot.
This ham-fisted play is unformed, adolescent. If you enjoy making fun of other’s misfortunes or share the belief that farmers are ignorant hicks or that dehumanizing violence is hilarious, enjoy. Or stay home and watch reality TV.
The risk of writing a mystery is that an audience will figure out what’s going on in the first 15 minutes or so. What’s left to do, then, is sit and watch the mechanics. That’s the problem with Richard Greenberg’s new play, “The House in Town,” in which all the obscured plot points are telegraphed early on, eliminating any possible tension. Instead, this is a fairly conventional drawing room play about a marriage coming apart. Even then, Greenberg’s narrative relies on inorganic surprises, with characters behaving in ways that are inconsistent with what has gone before.
At the same time, Greenberg is a lyrical writer—a meditation on the tidiness of snow is particularly wonderful—and it’s often a pleasure to listen to the language; one just wishes he had explored the deeper issues of the characters rather than choosing a more facile—and predictable—story.
Sam and Amy Hammer live in luxury on 23rd street, where London Terrace is being erected across the street. It’s 1929, and Sam owns a store, which apparently was unaffected by the Crash. Their friends Con and Jean Eliot come in and out of their lives, as does young Christopher Valence, the son of a woman who worked for Sam for years and was killed in an accident. Sam and Amy have troubles in their marriage, and they confide in their friends Con and Jean. Even at her late age, Amy dreams of getting pregnant, and thinks she finally is, only to discover something more sinister is going on. Sam insists on having Christopher more and more part of their lives, which confuses Amy, who ultimately turns on Sam, suspecting him of all kinds of things before she finally learns the truth. The trouble is the audience got there long before and has been waiting for Amy to catch up for the last hour or so.
Mark Harelick is good as Sam, and Becky Ann Baker is the brightest in the cast as the sophisticated and clear-eyed Jean. Dan Bittner is solid as Christopher, though he is not given that much to do outside of being a literary device. Unfortunately, Jessica Hecht seems lost with the role of Amy. Is Amy passive-aggressive? Is she lost and mourning? Hecht never makes it clear, and when she finally explodes at the end, it makes no sense. We see the mechanics of the acting at the expense of the character.
Fortunately, John Lee Beatty’s set is a delight to look at, as are Catherine Zuber’s wonderful period clothes. While Doug Hughes hasn’t done his customary incredible character work, the play moves fluidly enough. It just never goes anywhere interesting.