Theater Reviews

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Julianne Argyros Stage, Costa Mesa, Calif.
Through Jan. 28


Following up on his success with the Tony-winning "Urinetown, the Musical," Greg Kotis has written a clever and occasionally funny vehicle that actors certainly will relish for its many soliloquies and opportunities for broad physical humor. It might, however, leave audiences wondering where the meat is.

"Pig Farm" is the story is about three people, a pig farm and an EPA inspector. There is, by the ambiguous nature of the play itself, a great deal of leeway in its performance. It could be a straight parody of life in these U.S., using a pig farm and government bureaucracy as key components of the metaphor. It could be a parody of existing parodies (e.g., "Babe" and George Orwell's "Animal Farm," in their different fashions), making fun of their intellectual pretensions. Or it could simply be a "Green Acres"-type comedy about life on a pig farm.

Whatever the interpretation, the roles provide great opportunities for actors, especially for those who like talking a lot, often in manic mode. The most solid of the four is Steve Rankin (who also directs the increasingly tumultuous fight sequences) as pig farmer Tom, who never deviates from his character as a staunch pig farmer. He serves as the anchor for the play by never having a clue, in the process creating an eerie sense of respectable "anybody home?" insanity within his very proper skull.

Most spectacular is Blake Lindsley as his wife, Tina, who has too long been neglected in favor of the pigs. She displays a magnificently radiant Greer Garson quality when reflecting on love and passion and has a virtuosic ability to create the most ecstatic fantasies from the most earthbound realities. She is not helped by the unflattering outfits she's saddled with, unfortunately, which make her look like a statue whenever she's not actually moving.

Most promising is Brad Fleischer as troubled teenager Tim, who precipitates the most violent events (there is plenty of gore at the end) as his unsettled mind tries unsuccessfully to grapple with responsibility and the emotional eruptions of his libido. He has moments of real connection with the audience, but he looks lost from time to time and seems five to 10 years older than he's supposed to be.

Most earnest is JD Cullum as an EPA investigator torn, on several levels, between corruption and integrity. He veers between the impossibly broad and the disappointingly insignificant. While the writing gives him a few good lines, it also gives him many awkward ones, and his designer outfits and small stature make him less visible than he needs to be.

As one of the founders of South Coast Repertory, director Martin Benson must know what he wants to do with the script, but somehow it never becomes crystal clear. Maybe it's the fault of those damn 14,222 pigs snorting and snuffling offstage.

Full disclosure: I lived next to a pig farm for a year in Iowa. I found the pigs to be highly intelligent and reasonably accepting of their fate. I don't think they would have enjoyed this play.

PIG FARM
Presented by South Coast Repertory
Credits:
Playwright: Greg Kotis
Director: Martin Benson
Set designer: Thomas Buderwitz
Costume designer: Julie Keen
Lighting designer: Christina L. Munich
Sound designer: Tom Cavnar
Fight director: Steve Rankin
Production manager: Jeff Gifford
Stage manager: Randall K. Lum
Cast:
Tom: Steve Rankin
Tina: Blake Lindsley
Tim: Brad Fleischer
Teddy: JD Cullum
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