The Last Days of Disco Pigs

Solas Nua’s current production of Enda Walsh’s Disco Pigs runs only 60 minutes, and you’re relieved when it’s over. Not because it’s bad — on the contrary, it’s a work of sparkling, propulsive genius, astutely staged and brilliantly performed.

But know this: Its brilliance is of the combative, exhausting variety. Its pace? Frenetic! Its language? Formidable. Our protagonists/narrators, Pig and Runt, don’t communicate in mere Irish slang, but in their own intimate, infantile, often impenetrable argot, one that recalls the Russian-influenced dialect Anthony Burgess concocted for his novel A Clockwork Orange. (Malcolm MacDowell memorably cooed it while terrorizing London with his “droogs” in Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation.)

Fortunately, the two performers, Rex Daugherty and Madeleine Carr, are so magnetic and persuasive as Pig and Runt, respectively, that you feel invested in their fates even when you don’t understand what they’re saying. Which, at it happens, is almost always of less import than what they’re doing: These are performances of Olympian athleticism. Carr and Daughterty are almost never still, dancing, brawling, and executing other bravura feats of nimble, even gymnastic blocking that offer a physical representation of the changing shape and darkening boundaries of their relationship.

Pig and Runt are lifelong friends born to neighboring families within moments of one another. A reenactment of their births (!) is but the first of many inventive set pieces spun from the show’s sole prop, a shopping cart. The black-box staging is appropriate for Walsh’s oppressive depiction of Pig and Runt’s own private Cork, Ireland, where they run amok, stealing booze and smashing noses to keep their boredom at bay. One reliable diversion is when Runt chats up boys in pubs just so Pig can charge in and damage them, pretending to be her aggrieved boyfriend. They’re not innocent — they’re feral. And like most beasts, they’re subject to the same cruelty they dish out.

By the time Pig and Runt hit 17, their relationship has necessarily thickened. What happens if a day comes when Runt would prefer to talk to someone other than him? You can probably guess. The revelation here is not in the tale, but in the telling. Walsh’s poetry of primitivism conjures a vivid, strange world, and Carr and Daugherty make us believe the tragedy of their having to live in it.

Solas Nua — Washington’s contemporary Irish arts organization — got its start with a prior production of Disco Pigs in 2005. Company co-founders Dan Brick and Linda Murray were the stars of that version; this time, they’re the directors. This version had a sold-out off-Broadway run last year. Its Washington engagement is an unexpected but welcome victory lap, hastily arranged after the show Solas Nua had originally booked for November, the out-of-Ireland premiere of Philip McMahon’s Danny and Chantelle (Still Here) fell through. It was to feature a pair of supremely gifted actors: Rex Daugherty and Madeleine Carr.

No matter. Disco Pigs may have been the company’s second choice, but it’s demanding, heartbreaking drama of the first order.

This review appears in today’s Examiner.

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