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Lipstick on a Pig

Theatre Reviews by Matthew Murray

Christa Kimlico Jones and John Farrell
Photo by L. Evans.

Try however you like, you can never disguise a thing's essential nature. The title of Linda Evans's new play, Lipstick on a Pig, refers to one such ridiculous deception, and its story focuses on a dysfunctional family trying to pass as normal through the seldom-successful technique of convincing themselves they are. But just as one can't avoid the pointlessness of porcine makeup, one can't escape the fact that Evans's play, which just opened at the Beckett Theatre, is itself pulling off a highly unsuccessful, mind-numbing masquerade.

For this is no hand-wringing domestic drama, nor is it a trenchant, tear-jerking tragedy about a bedraggled brood trying to put right what went wrong between them before it's too late. Despite being set in the Transplant Unit of Indiana University Hospital, the play isn't about its stated subjects of father versus daughter or brother versus brother, but really that newly minted, yet already time-worn, conflict of red versus blue.

The latter is represented by Eaton (Christa Kimlicko Jones), a Los Angeles-based philosophy professor who's thrilled that she's bypassed her bumpkin upbringing of little education and early motherhood and is instead encouraging young minds; the former is the domain of her father, Blake (John Farrell), who both lives and longs for the simple life (he's into fishing, and not much else) and needs a kidney to live. Given that the only other potential match is his alcoholic brother AJ (Dennis Hearn), there's never much question from where Blake's salvation will come.

Evans deserves some credit for not overplaying her hand: Though Eaton has a speech or two about the better parts of the country trying to escape from the questionable core, you're never exactly beat over the head with direct references to how the endlessly loving and put-upon Coast rescuing the needy, self-important Midwest, which is too busy fighting with itself to do any good for anyone else and is best forgotten or ignored anyway.

But because you're given no reason to care about any aspect of the family's troubles, from who will get to donate a kidney to whether Blake will live or die and especially the extent of AJ's involvement with Blake's late wife, there's no way to dramatically justify any significant portion of the play. AJ and Eaton bicker, Eaton and Blake bicker, Blake and AJ bicker, then Eaton whines about religion, but it's all undirected dissatisfaction. Without much stronger characters grappling with more developed concerns, sitting through their enervating inertia is about as compelling as watching compost decompose.

Jones makes some use of this, injecting a frustrated urgency into her newly re-caged Eaton that almost makes an interesting person from the broken and bent pieces she's been handed. But Farrell is ceaselessly dull as her father, Alexis Croucher is too many smiles as the well-meaning but dronelike nursing candidate overseeing the transplant, and Hearn makes AJ so utterly insufferable the character practically becomes an advertisement for alcohol instead of a warning against it.

Director David Epstein has given the show a mostly perfunctory staging that doesn't make sense of Evans's woozy diatribe, but also doesn't mask it from view. He's willing to present the play, warts and all, though Lipstick on a Pig might have been better served with at least a layer or two of foundation. You can't trick someone into believing something is completely different from what it is, but you can at least accentuate whatever beauty there is to be found.

Lipstick on a Pig
Through June 3
Beckett Theater, 410 West 42nd between 9th & 10th Avenues
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TicketCentral

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