by Nathaniel Kressen · March 15, 2014
Indie Artists on New Plays #61 Nathaniel Kressen comments on The Pig, or Vaclav Havel's Hunt for the Pig The Pig is an uneven and oftentimes confusing play/operetta. The play as written as a piece of social commentary about a repressive government, however in this production the nuances and impact get lost. The action is staged in the round yet little attention is paid to making it visible or audible to the audience. An onstage camera is used to project scenes (or rather “interviews”) onto screens around the space, yet only one handheld microphone is made available to the performers which ends up making a sizeable portion of the dialogue inaudible. Many of the key details get lost early on, leaving the audience to wonder what prompted the action of the play, or more to the point, why it is worth caring about.
The plotline is fairly straightforward, if not altogether explained. A reporter arrives in a small town to report on their annual festival. She witnesses mounting complications as one man tries to find a pig for the feast. A farmer promises him the perfect pig only to rescind the offer and direct the man elsewhere. The man is redirected thus multiple times. Along the way, the chorus of townspeople periodically circle the stage singing the chorus “Irate / Irritated,” and the reporter’s production assistant seems to intimidate interviewees from answering questions about the government. Eventually the man agrees to pay an exorbitant sum for an undersized pig, and the reporter sheds her ditzy persona (as well as her production assistant) to reveal her true intention to report on the government’s oppression of its people.
There are gaps in detail that prove frustrating, such as the nature of the festival. Two lovers are dressed as though to be married but it’s not altogether clear if they are at the festival’s forefront. Unclear too is why the central character is put in charge of finding a pig when he is so clearly out of his element dealing with livestock and negotiations. If finding a pig is so important, why isn’t anyone else in the town searching for one? If the festival happens every year, why hasn’t a pig been arranged for in advance? These questions might have been addressed at some point, but if so the answers went unheard.
In terms of the underlying social message of the play, the audience never quite sees for themselves the oppression of the townspeople, which undercuts the importance of the final scenes. Instead, they are shown preparing for the festival, dancing, and playing music. When they burst into the chorus of “Irate / Irritated,” it seems more an extension of the man’s difficulties rather than something applicable to the larger population. The reporter’s footage on screen is accompanied by a scrolling newsfeed, which could have been used to provide insight into the political state of the country. Instead, it only includes contextual references establishing the play’s location and time period, as well as self-referential punch lines such as “Avant garde playwright still lacks recognition.” The character of the production assistant – the would-be stand-in for the oppressive government – feels simultaneously cliché and unfocused. He wears black clothing, a black fedora, and a perpetual scowl – then bides his time reading Playboy. What are we meant to take away from his character? Is he a cog in the machine or the embodiment of real danger? What is at stake if a character defies him and speaks to the camera at will? This too remains unexplained.
The direction seems largely responsible for this fragmented and unfocused production. Not only are key scenes left unseen or unheard due to poor blocking, less important moments pull focus. Whenever the chorus of townspeople sing, for instance, they are joined by a host of musicians – all together perhaps numbering 20 performers. The group makes eye contact with the audience but these moments of connection never lead to something more substantial. We are not brought into their world so to speak, nor made to understand the plight of an oppressed people. Instead, their volume grows increasingly loud, making it even more problematic to hear the scenes of dialogue that follow.
The company of performers seem capable but misdirected. The same goes for the design team. Everything here errs on the side of being obvious and flashy.