Heeding animal -- and theatrical -- instincts to wallow in words
By Nelson Pressley
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, November 22, 2009
"Acting" is a meager word for what Madeleine Carr and Rex Daugherty do in Solas Nua's "Disco Pigs." Carr and Daugherty tear through Enda Walsh's hour-long play as if the flames of hell were licking at their feet; they perform with Olympian endurance, and their intensity is practically criminal.
That's the way to go, of course, when the characters are as over-the-top with swearing and face-stomping as these two 17-year-old rascals, who go by the names of Runt (the girl) and Pig (the boy). Carr and Daugherty, propelled by dense dialogue that is at times impenetrable, enter at a sprint as these two friends are nearly simultaneously birthed; the hilarious opening scene features a steel shopping cart from which these two grunting, squealing figures pop into the cruel world.
"Disco Pigs" is one of those feisty Irish narratives in which young punks gleefully recall brawling adventures, slugging and tumbling all the way. Prodigious drinking, violent smash-ups -- it's like an action movie done with a torrent of words, a subgenre that has been honed in recent years by Walsh, Mark Rowe and other Irish writers pushing the envelope of Technicolor language.
The play was an early hit for Walsh, whose trajectory has continued upward; his "New Electric Ballroom" is now playing in New York, and he co-wrote the script for the recent film "Hunger." Solas Nua launched itself with "Disco Pigs" in a 2005 production featuring Linda Murray and Dan Brick, the artistic director and producing director, respectively, who direct this kinetic new version at Flashpoint's Mead Theater Lab (it's the same show they took to New York last year).
It's nearly all on the actors: Murray and Brick leave the small stage bare but for the shopping cart, which is used sparingly but inventively as Carr and Daugherty prowl and erupt with glee and rage. The characters' combustibility is a kind of defense mechanism; they are down-and-outers at odds with their environment, and styling themselves as king and queen while tyrannically thumping whomever they please is their way of exacting at least some degree of control.
Emotionally, the story is more supple than you'd guess, with the unbearably tight relationship between Pig and Runt coming in for a quick sad twist. Even this early in his career, Walsh showed a sure instinct for dramatic shape and lyric imagery amid verbal debris.
It's a sharp drama, then, despite the almost absurdly stylized dialect. (Sample this from Pig, exuberant at a dance club: "Real soun set Pig swimmin and swimmin in da on-off off-beat dat is dance!") A glimpse at the script reveals an incredible reliance on exclamation points; Walsh's chief decision at the end of each line seems to have been not whether, but how many!! It's also marked by that relentless quirky speech, which needs heavy decoding in performance.
Carr and Daugherty excel here, thwacking specific meaning from each sentence and sweeping the audience past the words to the garbled hearts of these ultimately pathetic characters. The performance is high-precision all around, with Brick and Murray providing a driving sound design while Marianne Meadows manages lighting shifts that sweep the action around as briskly as Walsh's words themselves.