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AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL OPERA
David Chesky, The Pig, The Farmer and The Artist: Gene Frankel Theatre, New York City, 2.10.2009 (BH)
David Chesky: Music
/ Book / Lyrics
A. Scott Parry: Director / Designer
Anthony Aibel: Conductor / Music Director
Rob Scallan: Lighting Designer
Anna Dineli: Art Designer
Tom Blunt: The Pig
Cory Clines: Farmer Jones
Christopher Preston Thompson: The Artist
Wendy Buzby: Shirley, the Cow
James N. Kryshak: Harvey, the Bull
Melanie Long: The Farm Hand / Cornelius, the Art Critic / Pellegrino, the Art Dealer
Macbook 2.1: Hal-9000
Ami Vice, Megan Marino, Michael Dezort: Greek Trio
Operas don't get much fluffier—and rowdier—than The Pig, The Farmer and The Artist by David Chesky, here in its world premiere at the Gene Frankel Theatre. Although it is fair to say that the Met will probably not be knocking, the creators of San Francisco's long-running Beach Blanket Babylon might want to give Chesky a call. I could imagine this piece being a huge midnight hit.
Billed as an "operatic satire about sex, music and art," the piece gamely tackles a somewhat hoary target: New York City's eclectic visual arts scene, and the denizens who (sometimes unwittingly) expose it to ridicule. The title characters seem destined to offend as many sensibilities as possible, but the entire cast appears to be ready to perform almost any act onstage, as evidenced by a "no one under 18 admitted" caveat.
The plot is perhaps best described by reproducing the composer's synopsis: "To avoid being slaughtered by a lunatic farmer, Shirley the cow (a former hooker from Amsterdam) and her transvestite husband, Harvey, escape to New York's East Village, where they soon become all the rage of the highbrow art scene. Back on the farm, the Pig gets wind of their fame and follows to seek his artistic fortunes as well."
The score, fleshed out with admirable aplomb by conductor Anthony Aibel and a chamber orchestra of nine, is an eclectic mix of atonal musings, Broadway, jazz, and pop. Chesky is fearless; he'll venture anywhere if it's funny. And I must admit, boredom was never an issue in the two-hour production.
As the Pig, Tom Blunt had perhaps the most eye-opening costume, dressed in pink tights with genitalia resembling a pink garden hose. Cory Clines patterned Farmer Jones as a sort of singing Tommy Lee Jones, and Christopher Preston Thompson was appropriately snooty and melancholy as the Artist. There is a career as a late-night talk show host for Wendy Buzby, whose presence as Shirley the Cow was a consistent scene-stealer; her husband, Harvey the Bull (played by James N. Kryshak) wore a tutu. Soprano Melanie Long completed the cast by playing a farm hand, an art critic and a dealer. Vocally, one could only praise the group for plunging into Chesky's world with unabashed gusto, secure pitch and precise enunciation.
The Greek trio (Ami Vice, Megan Marino and Michael Dezort) helps lubricate the action (double meaning fully intended), playing "farm hands, goats, chickens, ducks, cows, sheep, West Village gays, East Village punks, high society dilettantes and paparazzi." Considering the scope of that list, they did a fine job, often given the lion's share of choreographic attention. The final character is a Macbook 2.1, faithfully reproducing the voice of Hal 9000 (from Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey), whose deadpan asides appeared as surtitles.
A. Scott Parry directed, with a light hand and an emphasis on telling the convoluted tale clearly and without apology, with uncomplicated assistance from lighting designer Rob Scallan and art designer Anna Dineli. Yet with all the frenetic energy expended onstage, I found myself thinking the show's satirical darts often fell short of the mark. Given the amount of sex and scatalogical humor, this congenial, ultimately rather good-natured farce perhaps wants to be more outrageous than it turns out to be.