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Pig Farm

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

One cannot imagine the sheer number of playwrights whose careers could be furthered or made by one phone call informing them that the play they slaved over for months or years will finally be produced by a major New York theatre company. So many souls, so few open slots every season, so little hope for personal or professional edification... It's enough to make angels weep. That the Roundabout Theatre Company would spurn them all and instead produce Pig Farm is enough to drive angels to suicide.

The less said (and the fewer individuals identified) the better when it comes to the unbearable show that just squeaked open at the Laura Pels Theatre. It's the work of author Greg Kotis and director John Rando, who won baffling Tony Awards for their work on the 2001 musical Urinetown and are now determined to prove they can do much worse.

The vehicle they've chosen is a parody of the type of emotionally wrought domestic drama that was burnished to perfection by serious theatre artists like William Inge, Tennessee Williams, and Sam Shepard. But such plays aren't part of an easily skewered genre, and their reliance on subtlety and unstated feelings makes them extremely poor choices for full-length attacks that want only to be outrageously offensive while masquerading as a statement of social consciousness. ("The river is threatened by selfish farmers? Send in the government!")

Urinetown was scarcely different, but partially overcame this with two "meta" narrators who provided an amusing gateway into that wacky world. Here, everyone is at sea, with the performers taking endless shots at subjects that don't invite them to begin with. If Urinetown's blasting Brechtian pretensions bordered on the pointless, it at least had some theatrical heft; Pig Farm is little more than a series of untethered, uncommitted, and (worse yet) unfunny jokes. To give you an idea, Kotis's idea of a running gag is that every character's name starts with the letter "T."

The specifics of the plot, which merits no mention beyond its base subject of 15,000 pigs and the waste they produce, will not be detailed here. Nor will the acts of cruelty fostered on the company's four actors (two of whom are Tony winners), who must pose, mug, and ham their way through more discussions of "fecal sludge" than anyone should be forced to endure once, let alone eight times a week.

One must wonder about Kotis and Rando's obsession with excreta, and how many more shows about it they'll churn out. Given their rocky post-Urinetown careers, they probably shouldn't be tempting fate. Both might well soon end up wishing they'd flushed away the script of Pig Farm before it ever saw the light of day.


Pig Farm
Through September 3
Roundabout Theatre Company Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, 111 West 46th Street (Between 6th and 7th Avenue)
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Roundabout