Presented by PURE Theatre
March 19-21, 25-27, April 1-4, 7:30 p.m.
Circular Congregational Church, Lance Hall
150 Meeting St.
Rodney Lee Rogers’ Hogs gives none of its characters easy choices.
While the play raises important, timely questions about a number of issues, the central concern is cost: the cost of belonging, the cost of doing the right thing. The result is a taut, well-acted drama as compelling to watch as an executioner’s pendulum-like ax-swing between victims.
An adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, Hogs is set in the present-day Lowcountry but follows its predecessor’s story arc. A small town desperate for economic revival discovers the posh resort and spa it has pinned its hopes on is built on a poisonous site: a gleeming future washed away by polluted downstream waterflow from industrial hog farms in North Carolina.
The bearer of this awful news is Dr. Mara Stockman-Kelly (Sharon Graci), recently returned to town with her family and employed by the spa as its medical director. Her immediate superior at the spa also happens to be the town’s mayor and her brother, Peter Stockman (Paul Whitty). Barely contained sibling rivalry sparks up each time Graci and Whitty share the stage. Like real siblings, the actors revel in the ill-concealed joy of going for each other’s throats.
It takes only the addition of Dr. Kelly’s husband John (Rodney Lee Rogers) and daughter Jenet (Sullivan Graci-Hamilton) to fan emotions into a roasting heat. Jenet’s carelessly tossed insult to her Uncle Peter, “Tool!” is just one of many telling moments when the arc of family drama overtakes the political and social dimensions of the play’s themes. In fact, the family dynamics that these actors slide into with such ease and naturalness are among the play’s most enduring charms.
Never far from the picture, the town itself. Headed up by conservative TV station manager William Alahamby (Chad Layman) and his staff, Julie Howard (Kara O’Neil, a City Paper ad executive) and Billings (Will Hodges), local media can’t decide between bowing to the mayor’s pressure to bury the story or take the plunge and air the inconvenient truth. Layman and O’Neil hit all the right notes as they initially champion the exposé then waver, waffle, and ultimately wilt. The media never looked more sheepish than in O’Neil’s convincing, pivotal capitulation. Nor did TV journalism ever seem more like used car sales than it does when Layman twists himself into a moral pretzel.
The most uncomplicated perspective on all this comes from John Kelly’s father, Big John (Jimmy Ward). Ward gives his character a no-nonsense earthiness that seems indifferent to the agendas at cross-purposes around him. It’s the kind of thing the stalwart rancher in old westerns could be counted on to provide, and Ward is perfect for it.
For her part, Sharon Graci gives one of the most unaffected, entirely believable performances you’re likely to see on stage. She owns this role and everyone sharing a scene with her shares in the glow of her performance. As her husband John, Rodney Lee Rogers’ unwavering support for his wife through these trials, his toughness, and humanity make her final line in the play as haunting as the hard choice they’re forced to make.
Hogs artful use of musical interludes and projected “news” video add yet another dimenson to the theatrical experience. Sometimes, it feels as though we’re watching a documentary unfold. Other scenes feel as if we’re tethered to a corner of the room, shamelessly eavesdropping.
PURE Theatre has given us many great evenings of theater.
And lining up for a ticket to this one is a very easy choice indeed.