I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I arrived to see the Untitled Theater Company #61’s new imagining of Vaclav Havel and Vladimír Morávek’s The Pig – also known as Vaclav Havel’s Hunt for a Pig – at 3LD Art + Technology Center all the way downtown.
To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d seen when I left. But the time between was a lot of fun.
I arrived to Czech music, a pulled pork wrap and Czech beer enjoyed at a picnic table, and left to the sounds of the Velvet Underground played by the cast. The main event was an allegorical political play, an in-the-round (well, rectangular), multimedia celebration of Czech culture and politics set to the music of Smetana’s 1866 comic opera, The Bartered Bride.
Adapted into English by Edward Einhorn and directed by Henry Akona, Havel’s play attempted much, and one must give Einhorn and Akona credit for their ambition, and for their devotion to the vision of the late playwright-liberator who became the first president of a democratic Czech Republic.
Havel was, both figuratively and literally, the star of the show. Portrayed by Robert Honeywell as a hapless innocent, the fictional Havel may be using his art to free his countrymen, but he is simultaneously being played by them. The titular Pig that Havel pursues for a feast, ever more expensive as the play progresses, becomes a metaphor for the struggles of the Czechs, under communism, to celebrate their pre-Soviet culture while also using that culture, and each other, to make as much profit as possible.
Thus Havel, as interviewed through the show via closed-circuit TV by a clueless American television journalist, is as much an object of fun as hero. But despite the play’s emphasis on politics and the fall of communism – the play is set in 1987, and a secret policeman hovers ominously behind the TV cameraman – the focus of The Pig is celebration.
To that end, the actors, most of them either singing or playing traditional instruments throughout the show, move almost continuously around the stage, surrounded by the audience, under the able guidance of choreographer Patrice Miller, who had her hands full.
It is Miller’s kinetic choreography – driven by Smetana’s music, with its subplot from The Bartered Bride – that really makes the show work. The musicians sing and play almost continuously, both on stage and sitting briefly among the audience. The result is a sense of both chaos and celebration, anchored in a multimedia set (by video designer Cory Einbinder and set designer Christopher Heilman) that is composed almost entirely of video projections wrapped around and above the stage, as well as behind the audience.
With sound design by James Sadler, Jr., nearly everything and everyone is audible and visible the entire time – the exception being the closed circuit TV audio, which seemed at points to disappear into the rafters. Holding it all together, director Akona – who also did the musical arrangements of Smetana’s music – very nearly makes it all hang together.
The degree to which it does not hold together can be chalked up to the ambitiousness of the staging and the complexity of putting across a show that isn’t just done in translation, and with additional material from another source, but has as its subject complex political allusions from another country, culture and time.
Rather than straining to catch every political nuance, or unravel the literal allegory, I found that the best way to enjoy The Pig was to revel in the music and the dance, and not worry too much about plot and politics.
And while I enjoyed my pork wrap, I would suggest that an extra $25 for a beer and pulled pork, which more than doubles the $20 admission, can easily be foregone. At $20, there is more than enough satisfaction in the play itself.
The Pig continues through March 29 at 3LD, 80 Greenwich Street. Tickets are here.