By EDWARD RUBIN
Be it an accent, a foreign phrase or an idioglossia (a made-up language) spoken between characters on stage, there are plays in which my mind is hijacked. No matter how hard I may try to decipher what I am hearing, the words being delivered from the stage remain largely unintelligible to me.
Disco Pigs, Dublin-born Enda Walsh’s adrenaline-infused coming-of-age play, which runs through March 4, is a prime example of this phenomenon. It is here that the play’s two energetic actors feverishly run about the stage, spouting a mind-boggling torrent of baby talk and a series of oinks and grunts that might best be considered an adult form of cryptophasia observed in toddler twins. Even worse is that all of the talk is delivered in a thick Gaelic brogue.
However, much like watching a silent film without subtitles, the meaning of what is being said through the actors’ movements, facial expressions, and visual emotions, came to me at supersonic speed through osmosis, a term I haven’t uttered since high school biology class..
For those with short memories, it was the 2012 Broadway production of Enda Walsh’s Once: The Musical that put the playwright on the map for American audiences. The musical based on an independent film was a gentle and bittersweet romantic tale of two musicians falling in love in Dublin.
Knocking the ball out of the park the musical went on to win a staggering eight Tony Awards for the Best Musical along with those for Best Book, Best Director of a Musical, Best Leading Actor, Best Orchestration, Best Scenic Design, Best Lighting, and Best Sound.
Walsh has stated in interviews that most of his plays deal with a search for love and a need for peace and calm. They are also “all effectively about theatre, writing and routines… I see my characters as needing to proclaim and proclaim…and to what? You know, to what, construct rules and sort of mechanisms within their living room but to what end? Only to try to escape them again and probably build more and more routines and patterns and all that sort of thing.”
The playwright has often suggested that what interests him “is about me actually getting through the day.” Indeed, the three works by Walsh that I have seen – Once: The Musical, Lazarus, which he co-wrote with David Bowie in 2015 and the 22-year-old Disco Pigs, which won awards at the Dublin Fringe Festival (1996) and the Edinburgh Festival (1997) – all follow these same ideas.
Disco Pigs takes place in Cork, Ireland. It is the mid-1990s and we find ourselves alone with the self-nicknamed Runt (Evanna Lynch) and Pig (Colin Campbell), both amazingly versatile actors. It is their shared birthday and Pig and Runt are each reenacting being pushed out into the world from his and her mother’s uterus 17 years earlier on the same day and in the same hospital.
For the next 75 breathtaking, roller coaster minutes we follow Pig and Runt in their aggressive and spontaneous birthday wildings, as they wander aimlessly from discos, to a restaurant, to a shop, to home, and to the beach, in search of a good time.
More often, though, it is trouble that raises its ugly head, instigated by the short-fused, brawl-prone Pig with Runt following his lead. Even a simple trip to the store spells trouble for the duo, as Pig goes on a rampage when the owner refuses him a free bottle of beer.
In one of their intrigues, always recounted to us by the actors, Runt deliberately and seductively dances with a guy and then secretly signals to Pig, after she is kissed, to “rescue“ her, which, as their game goes, leads to Pig beating the guy up as Runt cheers him on.
It is at this disco where Pig realizes that he’s attracted to Runt. However, when Pig kisses her, Runt struggles and pulls away.
In another scenario, one of few quiet ones, Pig and Runt are seen lying in front of the TV watching “Baywatch.” They are simply mesmerized by the sound, sea, sand, the sex, and all of the ‘Caliphoney babies’ of “Baywatch“ as Pig notes while ogling the scantily clad Pamela Anderson.
Even the sleek beauty of the Hollywood toilet catches their fancy. “Imagine having a wazz in dat bowl,” Pig says. Runt’s laughingly replies, ‘Oh yeah pal! A pock-full a tens ta wipe da bum hole and all.”
After watching the buxom Pamela Anderson cavorting on the beach, Pig’s attraction to Runt resurfaces. This time, in a long monologue Pigs fantasizes, in minute and almost pornographic detail, all of the intimate sexual fantasies that he would like to see happen between him and Runt.
All along, it is obvious from their behavior, and in the games that they play, that times are a’changing and both Pig and Runt want more out of their lives than what they have.
Nowhere is this more glaring than when Pig takes Runt to the seaside where looking out from the shore, they contemplate their future. Runt talks about wanting to walk out “inta the sea and neva come back. I wan ta tide to take me an give me someone differen…maybe just fur a half hour.”
Pig, unsure, and perhaps even fearful of his approaching adulthood wants “a huge space rocket to take him up to da cosmos shiny stars all twinkle twinkle and shit in my saucer and have a good look down on da big big blue.” And then, returning to what he knows best, it is back to his “roam your room an da Palace Disco cause das all dat matters, Runt…ress is just weekday stuff.”
With a play like this, which is mostly pure action delivered at lightning speed, timing is absolutely essential and high production values are not only needed, but absolutely required.
I am happy to say that John Haidar’s brilliant direction, Naomi Said’s believable direction of movement, Richard Kent’s costume and set design (the latter of which featured only a television), Elliot Griggs’ lighting and Giles Thomas’ sound (both of which recreate the play’s authentic disco moments), the audience is gifted with the very best.
Coupled with Walsh’s turbulent writing which accurately captures the adolescent feelings and emotions in Pig and Runt, the tech crew has incredulously fashioned an authentic work of art, one that tells us a lot about our own coming of age.
Disco Pigs is playing at the Irish Rep Theatre 132 West 22nd Street, New York City through March 4, 2018. For more information check their website www.irishrep.org or call box the Irish Rep Box Office at 212-727-2737. The play, written by Enda Walsh and directed by John Haidar, runs one hour and 15 minutes.
Cast: Evanna Lynch, Colin Campbell
Technical: Movement Director: Naomi Said; Set & Costume Design: Richard Kent; Lighting Design: Elliot Griggs; Sound Design: Giles Thomas: Production Stage Manager: April Ann Kline