Southern Dialectic

The Apotheosis of Pig Husbandry is an unwieldy name for a play. But it’s just about right for a scholarly treatise, which is what the object of the same name is within the world of William Bivins’s “agricultural noir” play on SF Playhouse’s Second Stage.

Madeline H.D. Brown and Chad Deverman. Photo by Nina Ball

Bivins went from being an unproduced San Francisco playwright at the start of this season to the most produced local playwright in town after having his plays Pulp Scripture, The Afterlife of the Mind and The Position debut over the last several months. Now Apotheosis gets its world premiere staged by artistic director Bill English as the second production in the Playhouse’s new works lab, the Sandbox. Matt Vuolo’s impressively compact set positions a messy motel room on a level above the motel bar, packing more scenery than one might think possible in the small black-box space.

Apotheosis is obviously heavily influenced by film noir and hard-boiled crime fiction, but laced with offbeat dialogue and funny philosophizing that makes it almost seem like it could be a companion piece to the last play on SF Playhouse’s main stage, the 12-step crime caper comedy Den of Thieves. Although it plays at first like a dark comedy, it settles solidly into noir by the second act, when the situation’s upturned in a way that’s very in line with the morality-play conventions of the genre.

Asuncion Boyle is on a mission. A passionate Marxist who happens to own a motel downwind from a huge pig farm, he’s carrying on an affair with the rich pig farmer’s self-styled trophy wife. But his issues with Charles Masterson go way beyond the large-scale swine operation stinking up the environment, and his scheme goes way beyond mere revenge sexcapades.  Lola Masterson, who calls him Assy, just wants to proceed to the boning, but he insists that she bone up on Marxist theory instead.

“If you don’t understand the theory behind my plans, you’ll just think I’m being cruel,” he says. Because there are handcuffs, a motel room, her husband, and a gun involved, you get a feeling that whatever Assy’s plans are, they look mighty worrisome.

Although we get a humanizing sense of the convoluted way his mind works in his opening monologue, there’s a lupine shiftiness in Chad Deverman’s portrayal that makes Assy seem dangerous despite his professed pacifism. Even when everything seems as if it might be going according to plan, which is never a safe assumption in a story like this, there are many indicators that he hasn’t really thought things through, especially with distractions such as his smirking insistence on serving only one drink in the bar, a whiskey and tequila mix he calls a Pissed-off Son of a Bitch. When asked what his game is, he says, “Unfettering the feudal relations of property.”

Lolling around in lingerie for most of the first act, Madeline H.D. Brown strikes just the fine balance of playful sexuality and high-maintenance neediness as Lola that’s needed to make the character believable. When asked “What is wrong with you?” after a particularly dangerous display of nonchalance she answers with a verbal shrug, “I’m a handful.” And hooboy, is she.

Although it felt like it took a little while for the performance to feel less like a performance and more like a person on opening night, Keith Burkland makes a formidable Texan pig magnate as Charles, a little annoyed with Assy’s shenanigans but untroubled by them. Watching him cheerily snacking on pickled pork parts while things fall apart all around him is particularly amusing.

There’s a lot more to the plot, involving long-ago secrets, some “as God is my witness”-style melodramatic motivations, a bit of bloodshed and loud, sudden sounds, and possibly some unmooring of philosophical underpinnings, but I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise. It’s a play and a production worth checking out, so y’all should just go do that.  Then we’ll talk.

The Apotheosis of Pig Husbandry
Through June 12
SF Playhouse Second Stage
533 Sutter St.
San Francisco, CA

Show #60 of 2010, attended May 26.

Bonus links: From elsewhere on The Idiolect, my reviews of Bivins’s last play, The Position, and the first Sandbox production, Geetha Reddy’s Safe House.

About author

No comments yet.

Be first to leave your comment!




Your comment:

Add your comment