Spend a Scary, Thrilling Night Out With Enda Walsh’s ‘Disco Pigs’
The 20th-anniversary production of Enda Walsh’s ‘Disco Pigs’ showcases brilliant physical theater, while Robert O’Hara’s ‘Mankind’ imagines a world without women.
It is 20 years since theatergoers first met Pig and Runt, the two motormouth characters of Enda Walsh’s breakthrough, multi-award-winning play, Disco Pigs. Once met, they are never forgotten.
They are fun, innocent, knowing kids, then teenagers, then young adults growing up in Cork City, in County Cork, Ireland, and utterly in their own world—a comfort zone that becomes its own dangerous and suffocating prison.
They may remind you of other hapless but magnetized duos like Vladimir and Estragon, helplessly together and unimaginable apart; Pig and Runt in the Cork City of 1996 waiting for their very own Godot on a dance floor, getting drunk and high, or gazing up at an endless night sky. They are “disco pigs,” not meant as an insult, but rather as two kids who love making anarchically merry at night; disco pigs in clover, if you like.
John Haidar, director of the brilliant and electrifying 20th-anniversary production at New York City’s Irish Repertory Theatre (truly, it’s one of the best productions I have seen on or off-Broadway in recent months), calls the pair’s dizzying, mashed-up lexicon entirely their own, “a variation of a Cork dialect, but peppered with words, sounds, and phrases of their own making, along with references drawn from every corner of mid-’90s pop culture.”
The Irish setting and context immediately summons up the lyricism and streams of consciousness of James Joyce, and Walsh is a worthy modern-era compatriot of the Dubliners author. (If you see Disco Pigs, also go to St. Ann’s Warehouse to see his play 2014 play, Ballyturk; Walsh is also directing that production.)
In Disco Pigs, Evanna Lynch (Runt) and Colin Campbell (Pig) come into the world right in front of us, as screaming infants with thoughts and words immediately streaming from their mouths.
They first appear through flaps at the back of the stage, intended to be their mothers’ vaginas. They nervously peep put into the world but are soon crafting their own world out of it.
Their world is the world, everyone else is merely a walk-on player, interruption, and—particularly for Pig—threatening nuisance to be beaten up and maybe worse. The pair are funny, sweet, sometimes whimsical, and also not to be crossed.
Everything—really, everything—is perfectly realized in this production: Lynch and Campbell combine the not-unintimidating tasks of enunciating Walsh’s propulsive thickets of poetry and profanity, but also throw themselves around a mostly bare stage, which, lit ingeniously by Elliot Griggs, can be a home, a nightclub, and—most bewitchingly—a magical trip on the seaside.
Lynch and Campbell are dressed in the club-kid duds of 1997 and are a riot of clashing words, which—as Haidar notes—are punctuated by “occasional chasms of silence, moments where things fall apart, and even a sense of the confessional box in these soliloquies… If they cease to speak, they might cease to exist, so their fear of silence becomes all-pervasive.”
The trajectory of their friendship is quotidian and epic. Runt loves Scampi Fries (a salty, addictive potato snack), and they both love drinking and getting high. As Runt chugs cider, Pig notes admiringly: “Gallon by gallon deep we go. A buddel a rider’s an awful ting, but hey, an wad da fuck! Da ting it works! Inta da skull like ka lawn mower it mix me an Runt all aboud! Two fishys a swillin it back a swillin it back a swillin it back… down da belly an oud da spout…”
The first man to run foul of Pig is the unseen (and eventually badly beaten up) Foxy, but the pair don’t stop to consider that beating. On their way for late night junk food they profess their love for each other: “Jarr my bes pal in da whole whirl”/ “Jarr my life, Pig.” In a beautiful piece of lyricism, she tells us of the beginning of their bond, as two babies in adjacent incubators, and then out by the ocean—a critical moment she sees as a seal on their friendship and he sees a prelude to the romance that must surely follow from their bond.
This stark difference—the relationship he desperately wants with her contrasted with the love she feels for him yet the need to break away from that—forms the tension that informs the rest of the play. One sequence sees Pig singing The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” at a pub karaoke, as Runt is beaten up by a woman.
The pair reach a kind of Elysian club heaven at the end of the play, the Palace, which appears as just that, and it is here their friendship finally fractures for good after another act of awful violence by Pig. In the play’s final moments it is Runt who speaks of her need for independence and something else.
These flat words ill convey the life and vitality of Disco Pigs. They ill convey the astonishing performances of Lynch and Campbell, and their physicality (under movement director Naomi Said) and the technical brilliance of Haidar, designer Richard Kent, sound designer Giles Thomas, and lighting director Griggs.
For 75 minutes you are absolutely on the streets of Cork City with Pig and Runt, and scared and exhilarated to be in their company. Walsh’s sneakiest bit of mastery is, all the way through, having you want them to be together and also want them to be apart for their own sakes. Even for a 17-year-old disco pig, the cold light of daybreak, or adulthood, eventually comes.
Robert O’Hara would like us to consider a world without women in his new play, Mankind, at New York City’s Playwrights Horizons.
That isn’t immediately apparent when we meet Jason (Bobby Moreno) and Mark (Anson Mount), who seem like a couple of guys having a series of slightly fraught hook-ups.
But they’re not. “Gay” is now a term that means nothing, because men having sex with men is now the basic sexual and romantic currency of the world. Women are extinct, and men can also reproduce.
The play is a mix of occasionally fascinating but overall discordant parts: First you imagine the all-male world, then you imagine this world rediscovering feminism, and having it reinvented and recustomized by men, after Jason and Mark have, and then lose, a female child.
Tellingly, some of the audience laughed and found the various conceits and flouncing funny, and elsewhere others sat in silence. The ever-wonderful André De Shields dominated every scene was in.
The play is an exercise in both absurdity and cultural challenge. Its problems are more basic than its premise: You just don’t quite believe in the characters—these two “dudes” in possibly love; or ever really get to grips with what is lost in a society where women do not exist; or what the provenance and wisdom of a male-recreated feminism actually would be. Even if that notion is intended as satirically posed, Mankind ends up feeling like the most feverish kind of mansplaining.