Translated by Edward Einhorn
From its tile alone, it’s clear that this mashup of Czechoslovakian modernist and traditionalist art will offer plenty of irony. Our protagonist, playwright-politician Vaclav Havel (Robert Honeywell), isn’t out shooting wild boar. He and his wife Olga (Sandy York) merely want to buy a swine so that can have some friends over for a feast. The reason it’s a “hunt” is because it’s the 1980’s. The Czech economy is stagnant and the political climate is still largely dominated by the Soviet Union. Even the simple act of purchasing a farmer’s wares becomes a convoluted quest. The pig, of course, is a metaphor for various political agendas, even for politics itself. It also stands for a lost national identity. The tradition of a celebratory goes back hundreds of years in Czech culture. Under a puppet regime – underlined here by the presence of a black-clad secret service guy – the old customs prove difficult if not impossible to perpetuate.
Survival under communism means working the angles, and Havel encounters a countryside populated by a cavalcade of colorful con artists. At the local pub, the tap master (Michael Whitney) and his wife (Jenny Lee Mitchell) purport to have access to the proper porcine provisions. But no sooner has Vaclav agreed to a deal, than a leather-clad operator named Fanda (Christopher Yustin), announces that he has the best pig program. When it’s revealed that Fanda only has a runt at his disposal, the Havels are sent to see an old gypsy woman. On and on it goes, through bitter weather and broken promises until at last, at great personal and financial cost, the pig crisis is finally resolved. Vaclav’s ordeal is adroitly intertwined with an abbreviated version of the 19th Century comic opera THE BARTERED BRIDE, in which social complications hamper the betrothal of Marenka (Moira Stone) to Jenik (Terence Stone). The ensemble sports many fine singers and Smetana’s rousing ditties add buoyancy to the proceedings.
An extra layer of comedy and political context is provided by a ditzy U.S. journalist (Katherine Boynton) who mispronounces names and supplies answers to her own questions. She’s clearly there to feed Regan-era America a positive image of an optimistic Eastern bloc thawed by the new Glasnost policy. Cleverly, director Henry Akonda stages the action in the round, with projected images showing the houses, farms, etc. to which Havel travels. The audience is in on the artifice, but the anchorwoman’s news footage looks convincing. The device neatly visualizes the idea of American media reporting what it wants viewers to see, rather than the more ambiguous truth.
If anything, THE PIG suffers from a surfeit of pictorial elements. With such a busy stage, it’s hard sometimes to know what to focus on. Still, if the production is a bit overstuffed it is certainly never dull. The play itself clocks in at just one hour. There’s also a pre-show concert featuring international music selections by the delightful Cabaret Metropol, and for a slightly higher ticket price, mouthwatering pork (or vegetarian) langos and cold pilsner can be enjoyed at beer-hall style dining tables. After the play, a musical aperitif is served up by the cast as they break into clever re-imaginings of songs by The Velvet Underground. Is the intention do draw a parallel between the American dissidents of the 1960’s and the Czech idealists of the Cold War era? Or are they doing it just for fun? Draw your own conclusions, but either way, the welcoming spirit of the evening confirms what Havel seems to have been saying all long: that laughter and celebration in the face of hardship are the ultimate dissent.
THE PIG continues at 3LD Art & Technology Center, 80 Greenwich Street, New York, New York. Tickets: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/1401