Say what? “Disco Pigs,” Enda Walsh’s blast of live-from-Cork color, has the audience on about a three-second dialect delay, but, blessedly, that’s part of the point. Energetically directed by Dan Brick, this 1996 play is a bloody skid through the private world of Pig (a boy) and Runt (a girl), two friends with a private language made up of Irish slang, ancient in-jokes, and plain old nonsense. Pig’s violent shenanigans are probably a little too much at times, but why gripe? This is about as much theater as you can get out of two actors and a shopping cart.
Like James Joyce in full-blown triple-entendre mode, Walsh knows you won’t understand him right off, so he repeats himself and repeats himself, while Brick gives his actors a dozen innovative tricks to illustrate what they are describing in their pidgin English.
This gives Pig (Rex Daugherty) and Runt (Madeleine Carr) a distinct advantage over Finnegan: we can see what they’re talking about, even if we’re only getting prepositions and the occasional verb from lines like, “An da liddle baby beebas a Pork Sity take da furs bread inta da whirl.” For that line, we get the spectacle of Pig, balanced on the play’s only prop (a now-upturned shopping cart), poking his head out from between Runt’s legs as if he’s being “born” as she narrates.
Pig and Runt are inseparable, even when one of them isn’t giving birth to the other. They were born on the same day, to neighbors, 17 years ago, and have been best pals ever since, which is one of the reasons they’re so hard to understand: they only really talk to one another. It’s like a regional dialect from a very strange country, population: two.
For Walsh, the theater’s foremost comedian of poisonous relationships, the conceit is irresistible. And, of course, doomed.
The playwright’s last Gotham outing, “The Walworth Farce,” had a controlling father forcing his kids to act out his alibi for murdering their mam. Here, the damage is done the old-fashioned way — with a first kiss. Pig discovers he loves Runt; Runt discovers she’s spent enough time in their private country and wants to study abroad. As they wander through Cork, starting fights with everyone from barkeeps to the Sinn Fein, the two start to grow apart, which would be elegiac and sad in anyone else’s play and is kinetic and scary in Walsh’s.
The marketing problem with Walsh’s plays — also true of “Walworth” — is that there’s no way to stop them from sounding like total downers when the truth is that they’re usually a lot of fun. Pig is “da bes an da worse pal in dis bad ol whirl,” as Runt points out, and their adventures are peppered with deceptively smart dialogue and jokes that range between horrifying and hilarious, sometimes scoring both sensations at once.
It’s a brave, brief, funny piece that uses linguistics to venture into an emotional territory few people have ever explored. Or, as Joyce himself put it, “One great part of every human existence is passed in a state which cannot be rendered sensible by the use of wideawake language, cutanddry grammar and goahead plot.”