You may remember a long time ago when Norm McDonald could still get respect. On Saturday Night Live, he once did a turn as David Letterman. He played this role to a T – the twitches, the grinning pauses that are supposed to be filled with audience laughter, the sex with interns, and the hammering of a joke until it becomes an unflinching lump of dead flesh, registering the hits with only a meaty thump.
The joke, you see, was that there is a mechanism by which a punchline or catchphrase or bon mot can be beaten to death and then – if you work the right magic – can be resurrected like Joke Jesus to be funny once more. Much like the revival of a muscle that has been worked to failure, the joke comes out stronger if it survives this grueling process. Norm’s portrayal of Letterman hinged on pointing out that this process doesn’t always (or even often) work. Thus the skit is an intentionally excruciating six minutes utterly devoid of humor. It’s not funny, but the joke is that it’s not funny. Get it?
If not, you may have no interest in what I’m about to say.
Greg Kotis wrote a play. He is an urban art scenester with a lifetime history of humanities studies, so, naturally, the play is about rural farmers. It is not-very-cryptically named Pig Farm. The characters of the play take the shapes of a trendy city-dweller’s worst nightmares; they are by turns ignorant, dirty, violent, promiscuous, lazy, alcoholic, loud, belligerent, xenophobic, and any other adjective you could use to describe the nemeses in Wrong Turn. The play takes every swing it can at the tropes that inhabit Unpaved America in an attempt to beat them into a mushy, pliable pulp with which it can model a wacky comedy. But in order to hammer out these solid edges, it actually has to connect even once. The cliches in which the play traffics are so exaggerated that they disconnect from reality and become base farce. The play is to comedy what a stripper is to sexuality. But that’s the joke. Get it?
You see, Kotis spent his life in a classroom reading plays from the Great Masters of modern American theatre. In these plays, farming folk are represented as noble creatures striding the land, concealing the tense melodrama of mortailty in their silent and calloused breasts. To Kotis this picture of the rural demographic was itself a gross disconnect that didn’t paint the picture accurately – after all, aren’t all country folk belligerent racist drunks whose intellect and habits can only be differentiated from the animals by the opposable thumbs they use to work the remote while watching NASCAR? Because that’s what Jeff Foxworthy said. And Jeff Foxworthy is funny. So wouldn’t it be great to write a play that exaggerated those jokes even further until they weren’t funny? (The answer, which should have come to the playwright from the disembodied voice of the collective consciousness, was no, because the key ingredient to comedy is truth. Foxworthy takes these foibles and makes them endearing while Pig Farm operates on the level of a schoolboy’s sneer at another for wearing the wrong kind of shoes.) See, the play is stupid, but it’s supposed to be stupid. Get it?
There’s an underlying social commentary that arrives under the arm of a federal agent, but it’s buried under the oft-mentioned “fecal sludge” that the EPA is there to audit. It concerns the exaggerated excesses of federal regulation. Get it? Like Brazil, but without poignancy. A few ham-handed lines in the play suggest that it is a potboiler product of the hippie sentiment that typically (and ignorantly) equates anti-consumerism with anti-Americanism. The American government is the problem! Fat, grubby Americans are the problem! Look at them interact here and recognize how ridiculous it all is!
You may wonder why this is brought up. No, it is not to say that Pig Farm is being performed on a local stage. Yet.
The Chattanooga Theatre Center is auditioning for the roles this week to put the play on at a later date. The quizzical look you have on your face right now as you wait for the point is priceless. The point is this: you should seriously consider trying out for this play.
Now, now, listen. Why would this column ever suggest something that didn’t make sense? If you have even one lookame bone in your body, this is a win for you. Here’s why.
Firstly, all of the above was said to say this. You can not screw it up. You’d be doing the theatre world a service if you have the chops to bring an element of soul and sentimentality to the characters, but, failing that, you can act as big a drunken fool as you want and you’re still getting it right. The play is all about rednecks making wacky faces – just draw inspiration from your last family Thanksgiving and get to work.
Secondly, every play has at least one cast party. This is the sort of event that you can’t find on any neglected online event calendar or pay any kind of cover to get into. You have to know someone or be someone. The wildness of said cast party depends entirely on who makes the cut, but it’s a chance worth taking. Not only because of free alcohol, but because…
Thirdly, sex-positive feminist theatre chicks.
Hey, at least you’ll have stories to tell when you get back to more conventional carousing. What have you got to lose? Your dignity? Please.
It’s a good thing that no one from The Chattanooga Theatre Centre, 400 River St., reads this column. Auditions for Pig Farm are being held March 22nd and 23rd at 7:30 p.m. If you were actually talked into doing it, you can call them at (423) 267-8538 for more information.