×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Pearls for Pigs

As the years go by, a playwright-director with as personal a vision as Richard Foreman is in ever graver danger of cannibalizing or parodying himself. He skirted that trap at New Haven's Yale Rep last year by directing someone else's play, Suzan-Lori Parks' "Venus." But with "Pearls for Pigs" he serves as director, writer and designer of sets, costumes and sound, and the result is an earthbound, unmagical example of Foreman's phantasmagoria. Theatergoers meeting Forman for the first time (he's been a force in the avant-garde since the 1970s) may be surprised at how "Pearls for Pigs" frantically evokes German expressionism, absurdism, dadaism, surrealism, farce, vaudeville, burlesque, the circus and the Marx Brothers. Its long 75 minutes are quite the reverse of the avant-garde label still applied to Foreman in some quarters. But how, after so many years doing much the same thing, can Foreman still be deemed innovative?

With:
David Patrick Kelly (Maestro), Peter Jacobs (Pierrot), Jan Leslie Harding (Colombine), Tom Nelis (Doctor); David Callahan, David Cote, Yehuda Duenyas, John Oglevee.

As the years go by, a playwright-director with as personal a vision as Richard Foreman is in ever graver danger of cannibalizing or parodying himself. He skirted that trap at New Haven’s Yale Rep last year by directing someone else’s play, Suzan-Lori Parks’ “Venus.” But with “Pearls for Pigs” he serves as director, writer and designer of sets, costumes and sound, and the result is an earthbound, unmagical example of Foreman’s phantasmagoria.

Theatergoers meeting Forman for the first time (he’s been a force in the avant-garde since the 1970s) may be surprised at how “Pearls for Pigs” frantically evokes German expressionism, absurdism, dadaism, surrealism, farce, vaudeville, burlesque, the circus and the Marx Brothers. Its long 75 minutes are quite the reverse of the avant-garde label still applied to Foreman in some quarters. But how, after so many years doing much the same thing, can Foreman still be deemed innovative?

As he often does, he plays with theatrical reality and illusion in “Pearls for Pigs.” Presumably a pearl he’s casting before the swinish audience (skewered by Heather Carson’s blinding white lighting that spills way beyond the stage), it takes place in a deliberately tacky theater, a mostly black-and-white collage that includes Foreman’s trademark dissecting strings plus poles topped with white feathers and skulls. A small proscenium stage opens its curtains at one point to reveal a blackboard on which is chalked run-on sentences referring to the theater of disorder, of sleep, of fragments, of false confidence, of lost hope, of catastrophe and so on. Among the props is a magician’s coffin.

At the play’s core is the fictional theater’s Maestro, played with energetic skill by experienced Foreman actor David Patrick Kelly. Looking like a runty, bespectacled Al Pacino, the Maestro seems to be investigating who or what he is or isn’t with the help of a monocled Germanic doctor (sveltely caricatured by Tom Nelis) who first appears in a frogman suit and later plays golf with a severed head. Also along for the bumpy ride are a sad, classical Pierrot (Peter Jacobs), a spaced-out modern-dress Colombine (Jan Leslie Harding) and four “large male dwarves” kinkily dressed in fishnet stockings and work boots, their buttocks padded, their heads deformed by black beehive helmets, who serve as chorus and stagehands. At times the Maestro dresses in a sort of chicken-ballerina costume. None of this is anywhere near as much fun as it might sound.

Everyone works with enormous physicality, bounding around the stage, doing pratfalls and bumps and grinds, jumping in and out of the coffin, and engaging in fully clothed simulated copulation and masturbation. Yet the hard work, interrupted by deafening blasts of repetitive music, doesn’t pay off. Or take off. It remains stolidly unbuoyant, fatally laced with deja vu. “Mind attack,” the Maestro shouts repeatedly as the play winds down far too slowly. But our minds are never attacked because they’re never engaged.

“Pearls for Pigs” isn’t so much intentionally incoherent as unintentionally dull. The “Oh No” emblazoned atop the set’s proscenium is an all too apt reaction to the production, which must be even duller to theatergoers sitting on either side rather than in front of the Hartford Stage’s thrust stage; Foreman has staged it with only the central section of the audience in mind. “Pearls for Pigs” is scheduled to play “a number of American and foreign cities” after its Hartford run. Foreman’s reputation won’t be enhanced by it.

Pearls for Pigs

Opened, reviewed April 4, 1997, at Hartford Stage; 489 seats; $38 top

Production: A Hartford Stage presentation in association with Top Shows Inc. of a play in one act written and directed by Richard Foreman.

Creative: Set, costumes and sound, Foreman; lighting, Heather Carson; associate set design, Dawn Robyn Petrlik; associate costume design, Mary Myers; assistant director, Sophie Haviland; production stage manager, Deborah Vandergrift. Hartford artistic director, Mark Lamos.Running time: 1 HOUR, 15 MIN.

Cast: David Patrick Kelly (Maestro), Peter Jacobs (Pierrot), Jan Leslie Harding (Colombine), Tom Nelis (Doctor); David Callahan, David Cote, Yehuda Duenyas, John Oglevee.

More Legit

  • CAROL CHANNING HERSCHFELD. Actress Carol Channing

    Remembering Carol Channing: A Master of Channeling the Power of Personality

    There was only one Carol Channing, and her outsize personality was a source of delight to many fans — and imitators. Gerard Alessandrini’s stage spoof “Forbidden Broadway” had many incarnations over the years, including the 1994 edition when an audience member was selected every evening to come onstage and impersonate Carol Channing with the cast. [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda Among Celebrities Remembering Carol Channing

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bernadette Peters are among the slew of celebrities taking to Twitter to pay tribute to late singer, comedienne and actress Carol Channing. Known for her starring roles in Broadway’s “Hello Dolly!” and “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” the legend of the stage and screen died Tuesday at her home in Rancho Mirage, [...]

  • What the Constitution Means to Me

    Listen: How Things Got Scary in 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    For a decade, writer-performer Heidi Schreck had wanted to write a play inspired by her experiences as a teen debater. But over the years the show started to develop into something both urgently political and deeply personal — and things got scary. In the Broadway-bound “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Schreck reimagines her speech-and-debate [...]

  • Carol Channing Dead

    Carol Channing, Star of Broadway's 'Hello, Dolly!' and 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,' Dies at 97

    Larger-than-life musical stage personality Carol Channing, who immortalized the characters of Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!,” has died. She was 97. Channing died Tuesday of natural causes at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Her publicist B. Harlan Boll confirmed the news. He wrote, “It is with [...]

  • 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    'What the Constitution Means to Me' Transfers to Broadway

    “What the Constitution Means to Me,” a buzzy Off-Broadway production that counts Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem among its fans, is making the move uptown. The play will come to Broadway this spring for a 12-week limited run at the Helen Hayes Theater. “What the Constitution Means to Me” is one part civics lesson, one [...]

  • Choir Boy review

    Broadway Review: 'Choir Boy'

    Honestly, I was afraid that “Choir Boy” — the sweetly exuberant account of a gifted prep school boy’s coming of age, written by “Moonlight” Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney — would be swallowed up in a Broadway house, after winning us over in an Off Broadway staging in 2013.  But aside from the odd set [...]

  • Jason Robert Brown

    Listen: How Ariana Grande Got Jason Robert Brown to Madison Square Garden

    Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown never expected to find himself performing onstage at Madison Square Garden. But he did — thanks to his pal Ariana Grande. Brown met Grande before she was a superstar, when she was in the 2008 Broadway cast of his teen musical “13.” The two have kept in touch ever since [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content