Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Aporkalypse, convergence-continuum

(From left: Geoffrey Hoffman as Karol, Michael Regnier as Pappaw, Scott Gorbach as JP, Marcia Mandell as Mammaw, and Tom Kondilas as one of the Pork Corp. executives)

On the competitive cooking show Top Chef, one of the more frequent criticisms of the dishes is that the cooks in question did not edit their recipes sufficiently. This usually results in a concoction that has way too many colliding flavors and textures.

Such is the case with the vaguely food-themed Aporkalypse!, a world premiere now at convergence-continuum. In it, local playwright Christopher Johnston starts with an appealing if not exactly mouth-watering premise: the awful offenses to both animals, people and the environment caused by industrial pig farming operations. But then he loads so many other ingredients onto the plate that the whole serving collapses into a muddled, tasteless mess.

Following the “let’s shoot fish in the barrel” approach to comedy, we are plopped down in the squalid southern farm house of a backwoods clan whose ratty acerage is lusted after by the local Pork Corp. But aside from the inhabitants being easy-to-mock rural yokels (the elderly parents are helpfully named Pappaw and Mammaw), there are other issues afoot. One grown son, Karol, is an ex-soldier suffering from PTSD, while his brother JP, a chaplain in the Marines, has just come home with mental problems of his own.

These are serious issues. But the playwright just uses them for sport, so that the two young men can cavort crazily, waving guns and touching off explosives at random. Okay, that would be fair enough, as long as the script turns this dark comedy into something other than theatrical exercises.

But Johnston just keeps layering on the absurdities. A couple accordion-playing (haw, haw) neighbors show up, only so they can get blowed up. And there’s a long and nonsensical scene between Karol and his suspiciously touchy-feely social worker (who later doubles as Astarte (the goddess of sexuality and war, get it?) in one of Karol’s PTSD-fueled fantasies.

Amidst all the scuzziness, as addled old Pappaw takes his dumps in the living room wastebasket, any thought of satire or relevant commentary on the supposed theme goes out the set’s plastic-sheeted window. Plus, Johnston’s incessant usage of “fuck” and “shit” displays more of a leering, adolescent fixation rather than the symphonic application of vulgarities by, say, David Mamet.

Virtually none of the blame goes to the actors, since they all do what they can with this tattered material. But director/set designer Clyde Simon appears as tone deaf as the playwright. This bottom-rung, stench-ridden hovel incongruously features a security system with multiple cameras scanning the barren property, visible on two monitors stacked by the door, along with a weirdly pristine settee placed in the middle of the room. Simon also enables some of his actors’ bad habits (Geoffrey Hoffman as Karol once again indulges his passion for spastic jumping, running into things and falling down).

One wishes Johnston would have focused more on the Pork Corp., as embodied by three identical executives, played by Tom Kondilas, who visit the farm with purchase papers in hand. Therein lies a play, and a rich vein of dark humor, if only all the other ingredients could stay on the shelf.


Through December 19 at convergence-continuum,

2438 Scranton Road, 216-687-0074

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