Oink if you love pigs and their waste products. Scribe Greg Kotis, who elevated toilet humor to Tony-winning levels in “Urinetown,” applies the same quirky comic sensibility to animal husbandry in this disgustingly funny farce, which is set on a rural pig farm and sends up beloved myths about hard times and heroism in the American heartland. Precision-tooled by helmer John Rando and featuring deliciously demented perfs by ace thesps who aren’t afraid to wallow in political paranoia and fecal sludge, bizarre laffer is the dirtiest show in town after “The Lieutenant of Inishmore.”
Having ransacked the national treasury of Western movies and frontier novels for his cultural iconography, Kotis feeds it to the swine in his hilarious plot about the disastrous consequences of the federal government meddling in the affairs of hard-working pig farmers. (Hint: Substitute “cattle” or “horses” or even “buffalo” for the pig references, and the subversive nature of the story is clear.)
The characters are composites of familiar genre heroes and villains, with their virtues and vices drawn to absurdist scale and the crises in their lives pushed to ridiculous extremes. Under Rando’s scrupulous helming, a cast of brilliant farceurs play these cartoon characters without forgetting that they are, underneath it all, pathetically human.
Tom (a substantial figure of a man in John Ellison Conlee’s beefy perf) is the good, gruff farmer who just can’t make an honest living under the arbitrary and unfair policies of the Environmental Protection Agency. Although he’s a decent man in the best of times, anxiety about losing his farm has caused him to neglect his wife and abuse his farmhands. And with the pressure on to supply a precise snout count of his herd of 15,000 (or thereabouts) porkers for his annual EPA inspection, Tom panics and dumps his pigpen waste in the river.
“We’ll be done with the feds one day, with their laws and taxes and what-not,” he vows in flat deadpan. The tone in which Tom justifies his misdeed is defiant, but he’s cut down for comedy by the inflated idiom used throughout the play to mock such shallow heroics.
The same linguistic trick is turned on Tom’s wife, Tina, a wickedly funny study of sullen frustration in Katie Finneran’s sly perf. “All these years I’ve been giving you clean clothes, birthing pigs, cooking food, kept you going so you could keep this farm going,” she declares, standing in her generic farmhouse kitchen and demanding her payment (of a baby) in the aggrieved accents of every celluloid wife in the genre.
Comic prince Logan Marshall-Green (“Dog Sees God”) makes a meal out of yet another stock role — the young rebel Tim, who, having achieved his manhood by sleeping with the farmer’s wife, gets carried away by the power in his pants. (Credit for the sexual contortions these two get into should probably go to fight director Steve Rankin.)
“I’m thinking about making a break for it, making a break right off this farm,” Tim says, tipping off Tina to the chaos he is about to unleash on the pig farm. Slouching around the tidy farmhouse in his mud-stained clothes, a goofy grin on his face, Marshall-Green gets the Brando-Dean inflections down cold before deconstructing them to smithereens.
As stock characters, Tom, Tina and Tim (note the nonsensical nomenclature) conduct themselves along predictable lines once the feces start flying. That leaves it to Teddy, the gung-ho EPA agent played with maniacal glee by Denis O’Hare, to maneuver the farce into more dangerous comic territory.
Unless, of course, you want to credit Ol’ Bess, a sow who makes the ultimate sacrifice to save this all-American household from sinking into the primordial mud from whence it came.