Pig Tree: a post-apocalyptic comedy in two acts played last weekend at the Arcata Playhouse—or rather, outside of it. Theatregoers were led from the Playhouse lobby into the cold night, to bleachers facing a set (a bench, steel desk and a few other pieces), in front of a few stylized bare trees and the cement wall of a real building.
It gradually emerged that the actors in tattered clothes (Sarah Peters and Adam Curvin) were playing former servants who remained at the aristocratic house they served, even after some unspecified apocalypse. Their employer (“the Laird”) is missing, apparently along with almost everyone--except for two thugs on bikes (Scott Simmons, Eric Puttre), a self-appointed boss called Potts (James Peck, also the playwright) and Pap (Ben Clifton), his minion with the convenient hunchback he beats.
All the actors performed admirably—especially Peters and Curvin-- and the outdoor arena allowed for some effects less likely indoors, including tall shadows created by Michael Foster’s lighting.
But the setting, the style, the story screamed meanderingly of attempted Samuel Beckett, plus minor acrobatics. For me, a determined imitation of Waiting for Godot needed more than some poetic dialogue and a familiar rendering of power relationships to justify freezing for art.
After the one hour first act, I joined the 20 or so hardy souls who returned for the remaining 45 minutes, but when Pozzo reappeared beating Lucky—sorry, Potts beating Pep—I headed for warmer pastures, perhaps missing the moral of the story.
I don’t want to fall into the trap of praising the pleasing execution of basically lightweight fare like Glorious! or Man of La Mancha, while dwelling on perceived flaws of plays that attempt something different. In some ways, Pig Tree was textbook “theatre of the absurd”, but audiences don’t come from textbooks, and this needed to do more than illustrate the form. Though well-executed, for me this experiment raised more expectations than it met.
That partly had to do with the premise. Several plays done locally over the past few years involved doomsday, often as a starting point, including more than one at the Arcata Playhouse. Maybe there should be a festival of them—“The Apocalypse Playhouse: Where the world ends, and the fun begins!” It has built-in drama, but I wonder if it’s getting too easy.
Some 20th century literature saw partly in the blasted landscapes of two world wars the evidence of civilization as frenzied wasteland, piling up its own doom. But there were also elements of the cautionary tale—of warning—that implied there was still time to prevent apocalypse.
These days, particularly in books about climate cataclysm I’ve been reviewing elsewhere, some kind of apocalyptic future is seen as probable, if not inevitable, and not far away. People may deny it, but they feel it. It may not happen, but it seems to be gradually getting real. It is something people may have to make a life within. I think this raises the bar for apocalyptic stories on stage. Not that they can’t employ humor, but we need them to say something new, something useful.
Humboldt Light Opera Company presents the musical, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at the CR Forum Theatre Friday at 7:30, continuing Fridays and Saturdays through May 15, with Sunday matinees at 2 on May 9 and 16. I received no advance information on this show as NC Journal theatre columnist either from HLOC or the Journal. Apparently (from what I read in the paper) the show includes some celebrity ringers as spelling bee contestants. I wasn't asked for that either. I pretty much knew where I stood in North Coast celebrity terms--apart from how funny I find that idea to begin with--but when I don't get information, let alone an invitation to review, repeatedly, it kind of discourages the attempt. It certainly has discouraged this one.