THEATER Downwind from a sprawling industrial pig farm stands a shabby little motel under new management. It’s maybe not what Business Week would call an auspicious location, but then proprietor Asuncion Boyle (Chad Deverman) is not your average entrepreneur. His enterprise — registered in marketing decisions like a bar that serves only one drink: “The Pissed-off Son of a Bitch” — is the overthrow of capitalism, one loathsome pig farmer at a time. Moreover, his first target, swaggering Texas dealmaker Charles Masterson (an extremely impressive Keith Burkland), is far from arbitrary. Asuncion — or “Assy” as his kinky lover and Charles’ trophy wife Lola (a compelling Madeline H.D. Brown) likes to call him — stalks the man he blames for his mother’s suicide many years before.
“This is about social justice, not revenge,” insists our somewhat addled if cocksure protagonist. It’s pretty clear no one else believes him, but Lola still proves a willing accomplice, even after she learns of the origin of their affair in his plot to buy her husband’s pig farm in foreclosure and turn it into a desert park for the community. This unexpectedly straightforward and hopelessly naïve stratagem comes backed by a frame-up ploy that recapitulates the violent act Asuncion saw through a motel window as a child, as well as by an inscrutable neo-Marxist treatise he penned called The Apotheosis of Pig Husbandry. The document is the fruit of 10 years of dedicated study in the Albuquerque public library. (History repeats itself indeed, but the second time is definitely as farce, a detail Assy seems to have forgotten.)
The Apotheosis of Pig Husbandry, the latest effort by industrious and popular local playwright William Bivins (Pulp Scripture; The Position), is less a play of ideas than a winking bit of Texan Panhandle neo-noir, a sardonic psychodrama cum thriller, something in the vein of Tracy Letts’ Killer Joe or Dennis Lehane’s Coronado (which SF Playhouse, the producing company, mounted a couple of seasons back). If Assy’s schooling of his materialistic, sadomasochistic, platinum blonde disciple and his verbal sparring with the vigorous and canny Charles come comically peppered with Marxist clichés, it’s the surprisingly tender, tortured relationships between all three on which history will actually turn.
But in also going for something beyond just another seedy, sexy, comical thrill ride, Apotheosis, part of SF Playhouse’s intriguing Sandbox Series of new works, winds up less than completely satisfying, despite a sporadic verve and emotional complexity as well as very engaging performances by a fine cast under direction from Bill English. Circling around the subject of political and personal commitment and the real engines of social change (or lack thereof), Apotheosis can strain after meaning to the detriment of its more forceful aspects — including its merits as a seedy, sexy, comical thrill ride. You’ll have to make allowances for some awkward, even confusing plot points in this table-turner, and forgive a main character who amusingly urges his partner-in-crime to “stay in the abstract” but who is in fact a little too abstract himself to be believed.
Deverman makes it possible to forgive a lot, actually, since he applies a good deal of charm to the part. But Asuncion is simply more concept than character, especially compared with Lola and Charles, who both breath more fully onstage (the dependably astute Burkland is doing some of his finest work in the latter role). Asuncion, by contrast, seems both out of place and off the page. This is doubtless part of the point. But in the end, it’s maybe both too arch and too telling that Assy writes everything, inexplicably and improbably enough, on a manual typewriter. If you can buy that detail, there’s a pig farm next door you should consider.
THE APOTHEOSIS OF PIG HUSBANDRY
Through June 12
Wed-Sat, 8 p.m., $20–$30
533 Sutter, SF