Colin Campbell and Evanna Lynch in ‘Disco Pigs.’ (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)
By Samuel L. Leiter
Even if you know Pig Latin you’ll often find yourself at a loss when trying to unravel what might be called Pig Irish in Enda Walsh’s (Once) explosively well-performed but frequently incomprehensible Disco Pigs. The play is now at the Irish Rep in director John Haidar’s well-honed revival, celebrating its twentieth anniversary.
For all its linguistic obstacles, Walsh’s 1997 two-hander, which had its New York premiere in 2008, has had multiple productions and was made into a movie in 2001, starring Cillian Murphy, from the original cast. The current version—first seen last year at Trafalgar Studios, London—sizzles with hot-off-the-griddle acting, direction, lighting, and sound. It’s a gourmet piece, though, that I doubt will be to everyone’s taste.
Darren and Sinead, teens from Cork, Ireland, which they call Pork Sity, were born almost simultaneously at the same hospital and grew up next door to one another as intensely close friends. When playing farm animals as kids, they gave themselves the names Pig (Colin Campbell) and Runt (Evanna Lynch).
The play opens with them describing the bloody excitement of their births as they poke their heads through the strips of cloth making up the dark, dank wall with which designer Richard Kent surrounds the bare acting space. An upstage ladder and an old TV on the floor are the only scenic props, and I recall only one hand prop, appearing late in the action.
Over the course of an hour and 15 minutes, Pig and Runt, wearing colorful track suits, speak more to us than each other in their odd lingo, overlaid with a thick Cork accent and spiced with colorful profanity. They introduce us to the drinking, hostility, thieving, violence, disco dancing, “Baywatch” viewing, and sexual longing that distract them from their small-town boredom.
An inseparable couple, but not actual lovers, they get their kicks by Pig playing the aggrieved boyfriend who beats up anyone who, at Runt’s instigation, flirts with her. Things change forever, though, after events that transpire on their 17th birthday, when Pig and Runt begin feeling mutually exclusive stirrings as maturity dawns for one and leaves the other one behind.
Their words have an almost Joycean poetic ring but, as delivered in high-volume dialect, are a little clearer on the page than the stage. Here’s a random sample from Pig:
Ja wanna dance? Make no odds! I take her up anyhowways! I wine my charm about de waste! She say sometime . . . I don’t know dat squeak too well. She food inta me though an soon she in dance heaven! Kiss da face, will ya! On da lips, want ya! Don’t pull amay, hah! Owney baba cry! A full mast in da kax Pig he ready to set sail! She cry all elploss.
Performed to a thrilling sound score by Giles Thomas, shifting from classic to techno to “Be My Baby,” with numerous spot-on sound effects, and with an equally kaleidoscopic lighting plan from Elliot Griggs, the volatile piece also benefits from tour-de-force performances.
Campbell and Lynch not only gabble their rapid-fire gibberish as if it was natural but, as per Naomi Said’s movement direction, maneuver in synchronized patterns, dance with wild but controlled abandon, mime their encounters with invisible objects and people, and, in Pig’s case, even smash the living daylights out of them.
Disco Pigs has interest as a genre piece expressing the infantile behavior of shiftless kids in 1990s Ireland. Regardless, no matter how expressively it’s acted, it’s hard to get worked up over a play at least 50 percent of which would benefit from subtitles.
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 W. 22nd St., NYC
Through February 18
Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. A voting member of the Drama Desk, he has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).