Friday, February 3, 2012

Theater Review: The Sty of the Blind Pig -- TheaterWorks

Eden Marryshow, Krystel Lucas
and Brenda Thomas. Photo: Lanny Nagler
TheaterWorks Revives Rarely Seen Slice-of-Life Play
By Lauren Yarger
A mother and daughter struggle with transitions in their life and with living with each other in Philip Hayes Dean’s play The Sty of the Blind Pig, getting a rare run on stage at TheaterWorks, Hartford.

Set on the brink of the civil rights movement on the south side of Chicago, Sty won the Drama Desk and numerous other awards in 1971, bthen slipped somewhat into oblivion. Director Tazewell Thompson shakes out the dust with a strong ensemble cast. The play is at times a study of human relationships and at others a playwright’s exercise in cramming tons of exposition in dialogue, but overall, it’s a slice-of-life piece without much plot, but which nevertheless, makes us feel as though we have experienced something profound.

Characters develop and thanks to humor- infused and argument-driven dialogue, we discover a long-standing conflict between churchgoing matriarch Weedy (Brenda Thomas) and stifled Alberta (Krystel Lucas), the daughter she seems to enjoy belittling. Weedy’s brother, Doc (a terrific Jonathan Earl Peck), a gambler who is down on his luck after having enjoyed better days as a bigwig in Memphis, visits their apartment in search of money and whiskey. There, his easy-going personality is put to the test when he finds himself serving as referee in conflicts between the women, or deflecting  criticism from Weedy, who apparently is oblivious to the hurt her comments cause. Similar tirades apparently drove her husband away years ago and threaten her relationship with her daughter.

Alberta, who has a gift for delivering spirited eulogies, hasn’t been feeling well since the funeral of a friend – a man she admired from afar. This loss, combined with the steady diet of guilt trips and put downs from her mother drive her toward a spiritual and mental breaking point when an itinerant, blind musician enters her life.  Jordan (Eden Marryshow) offers songs and guitar music (performed by Sound Designer J. Hagenbuckle) in exchange for a meal as he goes door-to-door in the neighborhood of condemned buildings searching for a woman from his past. Alberta offers food, assistance in the search and then, much more.
Bible-thumping Weedy doesn’t trust Jordan, the product of a blind pig – a sort of lower-class house of ill repute where booze, drugs and prostitutes abound – and disapproves when he becomes romantically involved with Alberta.

While the situations are interesting to explore, there are too many questions unanswered. What's behind Alberta's illness? Who is the woman from Jordan’s past? Why does everyone choose stay in such a stifling situation? In addition, too much exposition and two lengthy intermissions interrupt the three-act play and confuse a sense of time frame (run time is two hours and 30 minutes).  Long stretches of watching a character unpack groceries, for example, or listening to dialogue yelled at characters who have moved off stage to an unseen room in the apartment (Donald Eastman designs the set) also detract from the drama.
Sty of the Blind Pig runs through Feb. 26 at TheaterWorks, City Arts on Pearl, 233 Pearl St., Hartford. For tickets call 860-527-7838 or visit www.theaterworkshartford.org.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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