If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
“Blind Pig” Revived at TheaterWorks
The oddly titled and rarely produced drama, “The Sty of the Blind Pig” is not the type of fare we’ve come to expect from Hartford TheaterWorks. The adventurous company has made a name for itself mostly with edgy, contemporary plays from recent off-Broadway. “Blind Pig,” an early 1970s drama by Philip Hayes Dean about African-American life just prior to the Civil Rights Movement, seems like a throwback to an earlier time when plays valued construction, were usually in three acts and actually had a beginning, middle and end.
“The Sty of the Blind Pig” has all that and more at TheaterWorks where, under the direction of Tazewell Thompson and a superior cast of four, the play is running throughout February. In a dingy Chicago apartment in the late 1950s repressed spinster Alberta (Krystel Lucas) shares uneasy living quarters with her caustic mother, Weedy (a superb Brenda Thomas). Weedy’s gambler brother, Doc (Jonathan Earl Peck), pays regular visits to spar with his sister. Into their lives arrives Blind Jordan (Eden Marryshow), a sightless musician who is looking for a lost love. Alberta is taken by the stranger’s plight which only agitates her mother and sets the play’s principle conflict in motion.
Dean’s kitchen sink drama is typical of the period and leads to a highly melodramatic turn at the play’s midpoint which may prove a hard sell to modern audiences. It asks its actress playing Alberta to perform a difficult monologue of repressed emotions that, in the text, seems to come out of left field. At TheaterWorks this lengthy sequence has been both overproduced (technically) and directed. A game actress, Ms. Lucas certainly makes a striking Alberta -- tall, elegant and perfectly tailored in Harry Nadal’s period frocks. But she has yet to find a way to embrace her character’s conflicting contradictions. After a strong first act, the play never quite recovers from this troubling sequence and the play’s coda seems confused and unfinished.
That said, the casting is nearly perfect here. Ms. Thomas is a fiery matriarch fueled by bitterness and religious fervor. Mr. Peck’s Doc has enough charm to make us believe he can still attract women even at his lowest point while Mr. Marryshow exudes sweetness and mystery in equal measure. Donald Eastman’s set is appropriately drab but some simple masking of the fire escape would help the illusion of height. I also question why, in this dangerous part of Chicago, a window and door are continually left opened or unlocked? Still, this rare revival is worth catching for its solid ensemble and the opportunity to experience a little-seen African-American drama well before August Wilson made the scene.
“The Sty of the Blind Pig” continues at TheaterWorks through February 26. For further information and ticket reservations call the theatre box office at: 860.527.7838 or visit: www.theaterworkshartford.org.
Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.