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Meet Runt and Pig—Irish to the point of indecipherability, loquacious as only a playwright’s darlings can be, 17 going on roughly 7. However is it possible that they should be moving?
Moving they somehow are, though, as they snigger and snarl their way through Enda Walsh’s Disco Pigs, two cheerfully brutal adolescents scudding rudderless toward adulthood in a poverty-poisoned Cork. “Virtual twins” born moments apart to neighbor families, inseparable always, they’ve created a private language to go with the private world that keeps the squalor and the dead-end realities at bay. Sinead and Darren are their names, too pedestrian and too much like everyone else’s, so they remain Runt (Linda Murray) and Pig (Dan Brick). Cork City is “Pork Sity” in their infantile ideolect, which is equal measures coy cuteness and loose, lyrical poetry. Unexpected things happen “all of a puddin’”—including sudden, startling outbursts of violence chronicled in an almost animalistic variant on the baby talk. It’s their odd, intimate music that keeps them sane.
Or that keeps us sane, rather, watching them. For all their fragile youth, all their touching lost-in-each-otherness, Runt and Pig are very nearly full-blown sociopaths, developmentally crippled monsters-in-waiting strewing pain and violence in their wake. (Not for nothing have Euro critics noted that Walsh’s early work includes an adaptation of A Clockwork Orange.) One favorite pastime has Runt flirting with strangers in pubs just so Pig can come stomping up, pretending to be her boyfriend and bloodying up the interloper. They brutalize a barkeep, torment a bus driver, strong-arm a cabbie into a ride across town, pick a fight in a bar full of Sinn Feiners singing patriotic karaoke. And it’s only the lyricism of Walsh’s writing that makes their world more tragic than any other slum—that makes their mistakes more fascinating than the average delinquent’s, that keeps the audience hooked on the red-flecked stories of their adventures.
Walsh lets us hear—and Brick, especially, lets us see—the ache that informs that lyricism. All that sullen, sneering separatism in the private language, in the insistence that they’re a world unto themselves, comes down to a longing to see, to feel, to taste, to relax into something that isn’t the meanness of their real world. “What is the color of love?” they ask each other playfully, plaintively, and on that taxi ride, in a gesture so unexpectedly open-hearted and unselfish and gentle it almost hurts, Pig tries to answer it in honor of a special occasion.
Inevitably, adolescence brings them to a breaking point: Pig dreams, in a monologue as richly poetic as it is pornographically direct, of a physical intimacy to equal their emotional bond. Runt senses his desire, if only unconsciously, and shrinks from it, discovering in the other direction the possibility of a life beyond the hardscrabble of Cork City. That Pig may never be able to see this possibility—that her awakening to adulthood will demand an awakening to the fact of his dangerous stuntedness—is confirmed in a final sequence measured out in phrases of horror and sadness. And in a turning away, finally, from the fun and the fey darkness of that childspeak, toward the quiet, somber cadences of a language that will allow one of Walsh’s lost children, at least, to connect with the rest of the world.
Eric Lucas’ production—for the fledgling Solas Nua Irish-arts organization, in collaboration with the Keegan Theatre—is a minimalist thing staged in front of a black drop on the set of Keegan’s Beauty Queen of Leenane, but it’s powerfully immediate. Murray and Brick set the dangerous-infants tone right off, in a hilarious sequence that re-creates (with a shopping cart and the improvised sound of sirens) the mad hospital dash at their births. The brogues are thick—how accurately so is anybody’s guess—but you get accustomed to them soon enough to follow the story. Technical elements were minimal but still imprecise opening week, though they may yet tighten up; Billy Maloy’s costumes, anyway, are grubbily witty semaphores of the culture Runt and Pig emerge from.
Which, as it happens, is last century’s; Disco Pigs was first staged in 1996, and the despair that darkens Walsh’s urban Ireland seems more in tune with an Ireland still yearning for a Good Friday accord. Surely Cork a decade later, this year’s official Cultural Capital of Europe, can’t still be as grim a place. Or maybe that’s just our own yearning—for a world that, as Tony Kushner put it, only spins forward, away from the mistakes we’ve all made so many of.
Mistakes have certainly been made out at the Olney Theatre Center, where Peter Brook’s 90-minute reduction of Carmen, restaged for Olney by Jim Petosa, continues its unsteady stagger toward the early closing a merciful god will surely grant its put-upon cast. It looks terrific, at least until the action begins, and it doesn’t sound half bad—William Lumpkin’s orchestra actually provides what would be a reasonably pleasant afternoon diversion, if you didn’t mind listening with your eyes closed.
But somehow there’s no sizzle—and we’re talking here about a fatalistic gypsy, a love-crazed soldier, and a preening matador, so no sizzle means something’s seriously wrong.
It’s not Stephanie Chigas’ singing; her contralto seems basically right for Bizet’s deliciously familiar tunes, and barring a couple of startling attacks, she deploys it confidently enough. Darren T. Anderson’s José sounds pretty decent, too; his take on “Flower Song” might even be something close to moving.
And it’s not James Kronzer’s set, which revives one of the most notable elements of Brook’s ’80s-vintage adaptation—the sand-pit corrida in which all the action plays out. Bordered by a kind of circular boardwalk and flanked at the back by waist-high railings, it’s an apt enough setting for Carmen’s various dalliances—public challenges, all of them, elegant and brutal as bullfights.
The trouble might start with Carmen’s outfit, which is less costume than character assassination (at the hands of Sekula Sinadinovski). No trace of the character’s sex appeal survives the high-waisted, oddly cinched skirt, and even if Chigas had managed to salvage some ember of sensuality, it would surely be extinguished under the tread of her beat-up combat boots.
The others look comfortable enough, though, and the larger issue with Olney’s production is that Petosa hasn’t been able to teach his performers how to move through ankle-deep dirt. When I saw it, a week into the run, everybody—even the nonsinging actors, who presumably have a little more experience with ambitious design concepts—was still walking like a gaggle of Jersey princesses teetering on cork-platformed sandals down the beach. It’s hard, I’m guessing, to project passion or virility when you’re constantly off-balance.
Certainly nobody’s projecting passion or virility, in any case. Except, come to think of it, Scott Skiba, whose slushy baritone doesn’t do much for “Toreador Song” but whose sleek trousers and their strategically placed stripe do plenty for the relative humidity when his Escamillo encounters Carmen down at Lilas Pastia’s. Skiba is the very image of sleek Latin sensuality—almost a parody of it, really, but he serves the show’s purpose.
Carmen and José, though—alas, Chigas and Anderson strike not a single spark in their scenes together. And that, more than any other single shortcoming, means this Carmen is hardly the seductress advertised.CP