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`Pig Farm's' cast serves up comedic chops

Hilarity results at SCR even if Greg Kotis' absurdist tale doesn't quite make its point.

January 15, 2007|F. Kathleen Foley | Special to The Times

Playwright Greg Kotis gets down and dirty in "Pig Farm" at South Coast Repertory. A Tony winner (book and co-lyricist) for the musical "Urinetown," Kotis has an odd predilection for the malodorous.

"Urinetown" was set largely in a filthy futuristic public urinal. In "Pig Farm," the setting is a struggling pig farm, home to approximately 15,000 pigs. But approximately isn't good enough. The G-men from the Environmental Protection Agency are on the way, and unless the pig farm's owner, Tom (Steve Rankin), provides an accurate count of how many porkers preside in his porcine fiefdom, he stands to lose the farm -- lock, stock and ham hocks. Of course, if the Feds ever learned he was illegally dumping pig sludge in the local river, Tom would be in deep -- well, you get the picture.

Sorely beleaguered, Tom is also being hassled by his wife, Tina (Blake Lindsley), who wants a baby pronto and is tired of Tom's equivocating. When Tom fails to respond to Tina's concupiscent overtures, Tina goes all the way with Tim (Brad Fleischer), a hormonal juvenile delinquent on a work-release program at the farm.

Apparently, Tina's packing some powerful pheromones; they'd have to be to trump the prevalent pig potpourri. Not only does Tim become dangerously besotted with her, but when EPA agent Teddy (JD Cullum) arrives on the scene, he's immediately smitten with Tina as well. Tensions among the foursome soon escalate, culminating in a comically bloody denouement as lurid as it is ludicrous.

Much hilarity results from Kotis' absurdist parable, which badly wants to make some point about the increasing intrusiveness of the federal government, or perhaps the growing indifference of farmers to environmental regulations, or some such. But that point is never quite made. Indeed, somewhere along the way, Kotis' cute little potbellied comedy grows huge and unwieldy, trampling all logic and coherence into the mire.

For instance, why does a neighboring farmer agree to buy 1,800-odd hot pigs from Tim right before the Feds are due on his land to count his stock? And how does Tim manage to count 15,000 pigs, enjoy multiple encounters with Tina and still have time to transport the 1,800-odd hot pigs to the neighboring farm, all in the course of one stormy evening?

Pondering these imponderables, one concludes that Kotis has crossed the fine line between the stylistic and the silly. Fortunately, director Martin Benson and his terrific cast largely make up for the structural irregularities of this ramshackle "Farm."

Forget subtlety. Benson and company are having a romp, and having a lot of fun in the process. Rankin's Tom is a stringy, haggard man straight out of a Grant Wood portrait. Tom is, palpably and convincingly, a man of the earth, accustomed to tenaciously hanging on while hoping for better times.

An unlikely but completely convincing siren, Lindsley's Tina is a drawling firecracker who bonks Tom with a rolling pin whenever he takes a bullying turn. Fleischer is poignantly preposterous as Tim, a dimwitted loser who goes haywire with lust, love and yearning for his homespun muse. And Cullum is side-splitting as a gun-packing EPA agent who barges onto the farm like he's looking for Public Enemy No. 1.

The design elements are superb, particularly Thomas Buderwitz's set, complete with peeling wallpaper that looks like it was harvested from a Depression-era farmhouse. Benson brings a vaudevillian broadness to the proceedings that is particularly apt. The love scene between Tim and Tina has the finely tuned physical humor of a vintage burlesque sketch, and when Cullum skids down the stairwell, flat on his back and backward, he -- and Benson -- do Abbott and Costello proud.


`Pig Farm'

Where: South Coast Repertory, Julianne Argyros Stage, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: 7:45 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 and 7:45 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays

Ends: Jan. 28

Price: $28-$60

Contact: (714) 708-5555

Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

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