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A CurtainUp Review
Lately Pig Iron has been attracting attention in New York, touring reprised productions, and winning accolades all over the place. But it has been less visible in Philadelphia, where for years they've developed new work at the center of a web of emerging theater companies. To quote my review of their Welcome to Yuba City ('09): "This is Pig Iron, the reigning kings and queens of off kilter, avant garde cachet, a jesters' brain trust whose antics probe below the surface of some deep well of shared cultural meanings. This is theater magic."
It seemed like they'd abdicated the throne. But what they have done is shifted their focus, from total concentration on primary creation to nurturing new talent to carry on. Behind the scenes for three years Pig Iron's principals and staff have been focusing their attention on the Pig Iron School for Advanced Performance Training. It is a relief and a pleasure to see that the torch is being passed to a new generation of passionate physical actors. These graduates exhibit Pig Iron precision, openness, mutuality, creativity, and giddy other-ness.
Within the majestic < i>Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts building, "docents" guide groups of audience members around to spaces where performances take place. In the intricately worked out management plan, each group will see each breakup. Directed by Quinn Bauriedel, each vignette is a distinctly different variation on the theme. Most, although not all of the 99, are romantic. Some are verbal and scripted, some are not. Some are furious and dramatic, while in others reasonable people incrementally unlink.
To love this experimental production you need to get your head into an open and receptive place. If you can do this, there's a big payoff.
Among the many scenarios, a memorable and masterfully played scene, low-key except for the megaphones, takes place with a couple in bed in front of John Vanderlyn's gorgeous painting of a neo classical nude. "I feel like I'm in a minefield," one complains. The other: "I'm sorry I shared with you something that was authentically going on with me at that moment." Meanwhile, in another part of the building two talented actors perform a peculiar and mightily site-specific abstract piece that relates directly to three paintings on the wall. And in the grand stair hall, four actors in formal wear act a dualistic, recursive piece.
Early on, the audience had been wished a good time enjoying the schadenfreude, but this show goes deeper than that. The idea of how an accumulation of little things can bring down a relationship is called up to conscious level, and I wonder if some people leave the show feeling a little less secure. Some may experience memory jogs. Maybe when they started out in a past relationship, their trajectories seemed to be in harmony, but they came to cross purposes and veered off in different directions. Or, as seen in some vignettes, someone might just call it quits. This show could be an entertainment, a meditation on the fragility of relationships, and a wake-up call. The performance closes in the Rotunda with all the show's participants performing an odd, repetitive and rhythmic fight/love/struggle parting dance. With the combination of strong acting of compelling and theme-linked theater pieces, the fine art displayed on the walls, and the impact of the magnificent 1876 Furness- designed building itself, the evening is a heady experience indeed.