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Thursday Theatre Review: Disco Pigs

Like about a million other university educated schmucks with literary pretensions, I once tried to read James Joyce's "Ulysses". I got about 100 pages into the 1000 page behemoth, my brain turned to cat food, and I gave up. There's something so very Irish about taking English and turning it into a kind of trapezoidal deathmaze.

This tendency crops up in MacKenzieRo's production of Disco Pigs. But where Joyce's language is complex are rarefied, Disco Pigs goes in the opposite direction- to the underclass dialect of urban Ireland, a nearly impenetrable fog of slang with a rhythm alien to the North American ear. But here's the good news: you'll figure it out. And as you do, you'll be treated to two incredible performances nestled in a firecracker script.

Disco Pigs gives us 'Pig' and 'Runt', two working class teens trapped in the great nowheresville of adolescence. The pair have literally grown up together, and the intensity of their relationship transcends both simple friendship and sexual desire. They live in a cultivated communal world, where parents and peers are totally irrelevant. Pig and Runt are violent towards interlopers and embrace a kind of desperate alcoholism, but their private fiefdom is a place of real tenderness. Problems arise as the pair stumble into adulthood. Runt is desperate to both mature and escape her decaying surroundings, while Pig just wants Runt. This asymmetry sets the stage for a kind of gutter poem on growing up, a simple exploration of the exquisite pain of being young.

Playwright Enda Walsh has created a script that pulses with energy. Every sentence is full to bursting with the spirit of her characters as the play barrels through their frenetic lives. Pig and Runt simultaneously live and narrate their experiences, creating an elegy-on-crystal meth experience for the audience. But Walsh also understands when to turn down the volume and freeze the action, creating beautiful little moments of calm.

At times, the play seems to be moving faster than its plot. Walsh spends about three quarters of the play exploring the depth of Pig and Runt's relationship, and about one quarter demolishing it. Runt's desire to escape both childhood and Pig seems to come out of nowhere. We know almost from the beginning that Runt is eager to grow, but the revelation that Pig is the one holding her back happens in an instant. The play suddenly becomes all about Runt and her journey, which left me wondering why we spent so much time with Pig in the first place. He finishes the play more or less where he started, making the script seem unbalanced.

The play's structural problems aren't enough to derail Disco Pigs great performances. This
isn't easy text to perform, least of all for young North American actors. Both actors manage to make the complexities of Irish slang seem effortless. As Pig, Richard Harte conveys both a sense of casual brutality and a deep, all-focusing love for his companion. Cathy Murphy makes the most of the play's underwritten ending, making Runt's yearning a heartachingly palpable presence onstage, almost a third character. And even when the script disappeared down a rabbit hole of Irish slang, the clarity of emotion and intention from both actors made sure I never missed a beat.

The soundtrack is also awesome, a collection of dancehall grit and punky energy. I do have one suggestion for the production team. I'm all for playing The Clash during the pre-show, but the show's set in Ireland. It should really be the Stiff Little Fingers. But then, I'm kinda particular about that kind of thing.

So, you should go. Go see Disco Pigs. It's a great show, with ballsy performances and a genuinely touching story. And best of all, it's way easier to get into than Ulysses.

Disco Pigs continues until March 15 at the Alchemy Studio Theatre, 133 Tecumseth Street. For more information, visit http://www.mackenziero.com or call 416 878 0590.

Photo: Richard Harte as Pig and Cathy Murphy as Runt.


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