Sunday, May 27, 2007

PLAY: "Lipstick on a Pig"

The big problem with Linda Evans' vague drama Lipstick on a Pig is that it seems so old, from the recycled ideas to the sluggish pace of the plot and the frequent gaps between lines. However, I can't even use the obvious old saying about putting lipstick on a pig to explain where the show goes wrong, because David Epstein's direction does nothing to dress up this play (certainly not the work he did for Coronado): it is what it is, and there's never any confusion about that. Instead, it's just four actors speaking through a stifling silence, set against a bland wall or in a blander hospital bed, and with a randomly rising and ebbing flow to the lighting that is both soporific and out of place.

For all that's wrong with it, the central concept has a lot of promise: an ailing and estranging father winds up with only two family members willing to donate their kidney to him. His daughter, Eaton (pronounced "Eden") is there out of obligation, but also to find an explanation for the childhood cruelties, and his brother, AJ, is there to pay back an unspoken debt -- or perhaps to incur a new one with Eaton. Dennis Hearn, who plays AJ, is a believable sot, the drunken loner who manages to be creepy and charming at the same time. But his interactions between brother (John Farrell) and niece (Christa Kimlicko Jones) are always shadowed by a bit of pretension, and though the family isn't close, it isn't until late in the second act that they seem like anything but strangers.

In two acts, the play is stretched and the interstitial moments are filled with exposition, a lot of which is provided by the unnecessary fourth character, Whitney (Alexis Croucher), who is the nurse in charge of the transplants. The bedside drama becomes unfocused every time she enters, and there's an air of artificiality about her whole role in the procedure. Lipstick on a Pig starts off knowing what story it wants to tell, but never follows through on the drama we'd expect (is AJ actually Eaton's father?) and ultimately dissembles into a shallow pool of melodramatic moments.

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