Pigsties and other Prisons
Athol Fugard, best known for Road to Mecca, Blood Knot, and Master Harold and the Boys, has a prolific career as playwright, author, actor, and director. He has written over 20 plays from 1956’s Klaas and the Devil to 2016’s The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek. And while most of his plays have taken place in South Africa, about every decade he veers into other regions of the world. A Place with the Pigs: a personal parable, premiered in 1987 at Yale University with, we’ll be honest, not great reviews. Scholars think that the lukewarm reception was in part due to how out of the norm of his expected oeuvre the work was, in addition to the material itself, as well as the playwright’s decision to direct and star in the production. While critics look for analogies to South Africa, Athol says he wrote it as a parable for alcoholism. What drew me to the play was the self-inflicted and self-destructive nature of Pavel’s plight, the squirrelly language he uses to justify his cowardice, and the Chekovian wry humor. I easily see connections to the fear and guilt-fueled pathology of living in a totalitarian regime, the madness of feeding an addiction, as well as the constant self-doubt and second guessing that seems to plague our society today. Are the pigs symbolic of the proletariat, the bourgeois, the drug, or of human complacency? This isn’t a perfect play, it has issues, it can be uncomfortable in places, it’s figuratively and literally messy, but, then again, so is life.
When I first read this play I knew, though I couldn’t exactly explain fully why, that I needed to do something with it. Specifically, I knew that I wanted to do whatever it was with Genevieve Perdue and Karl Shackne; one of my favorite SF Theatre couples.
It was a pleasure to work with the two of them on this weird 45-minute exploration of cowardice and inner demons.
Based on an absurd but true story, this poignant and sometimes hilarious tale is about a Russian solider who deserted during World War II and spent ten years hiding in his pigsty. As the play begins, Pavel Ivanovitch is preparing to rejoin the world and throw himself on the mercy of his countrymen, but his wife has used his old uniform for rags and he refuses to wear the suit she has pressed. Instead, she goes alone to an unveiling of a monument to the war dead and returns reporting that the townspeople wept at the mention of him and his martyr’s death fighting fascism. Also, a local bigwig proposed to her now that she is officially a widow What should she do? Will Pavel Ivanovitch ever be able to leave the pigsty, or is it his only safe haven?
Our Explorations series of readings will continue with Fugard’s Playland, which was also written in the late 1980s, though it returns to his more familiar territory.