Phat Pigs

The idea of a pig is quite different from the real thing. People get called “pigs” for being dirty and gluttonous, whereas pigs in barnyards are pink and shockingly clean. In Theatre for Young America’s The Life and Times of the Three Little Pigs, author and director Gene Mackey’s characters fill out both sides of the porcine picture.

Narrated by Danny Cox, who plays a character called the Peddler, the biographical play supposedly takes place prior to the age of the dinosaurs — “when pigs wrote poetry and owned all the art galleries” and “cockroaches walked upright.” This world, as designed by Jan Delovage, has pink skies and lilac volcanoes. Big Pig (Heidi Gutknecht, in a role whose name should earn her a hefty raise) seems to be more mature than the in-between Tweeny Pig (Valerie Mackey, whose Ashlea Christopher-designed costume actually makes her larger than Big) and the little Wee Pig (Angela “Wildflower” Polk).

On a day otherwise reserved for finding food and playing games (which Wee starts enthusiastically before quickly tiring), the pigs are confronted by Wolf. Evan Gamsu’s version of the predator is mean enough to be menacing to the toddlers in the house but perhaps too chorus-boy for the grown-ups. Nonetheless, he makes it clear that pork is the only white meat and spends the next forty minutes pursuing a taste of it.

For protection, the curlicue-tailed pigs need the Peddler’s straw, sticks and bricks, but they also have to learn basic economics: To have something, you must work for it (no trust-fund piggies here). The Peddler tells them they can sing and dance and be silly, so naturally they become actors. In a scene that recalls Dreamgirls, he makes them a girl group and books them into a club called Porky’s Palace, where they reprise one of their numbers with feather boas. (Cheryl Benge’s songs are fine but grow awfully repetitious.)

The clever set pieces representing the flimsy straw-and-stick houses get huffed and puffed to smithereens, and Wolf gets his Wee appetizer and his Tweeny entrée — next is his Big Pig dessert. Be confident, though, that there’s no bloody gristle or entrails; Wolf hides his head and smacks his lips while the actors roll off into the wings.

Cox is, as usual, a perfect balladeer. His gift as a comforting scene-setter effortlessly confirms that nothing too unseemly will happen — that’s obvious at the beginning of the show as soon as he sings once upon a topsy-turvy time. The women playing the pigs brandish cottony fat suits that would be awkward in any play, but there’s a sweetness about them that is never forced. Even beneath their floppy little ears, they manage to instill distinct personalities in Big, Tweeny and Wee.

Post Script: The Coterie Theatre has to readjust its summer programming, but no one’s complaining — the shake-up is for a major expansion that will give the theater a large new lobby, a classroom space and more seats. “We are nearly bursting out of our current space,” says artistic director Jeff Church. “To say we’re excited about this is an understatement.”

The Coterie has previously offered summer classes at satellite sites across the city. The theater’s education director, Nancy Marcy, says that plan will continue, with classes at the Crown Center site available throughout the year. “The classroom is a dream come true,” she adds.

Exactly how many more people the theater will hold has yet to be determined. “It’s really more about aesthetics than the numbers anyway,” Church says. “But the house will lose the feeling of being lopsided. And by losing the overhead pipes and ducts, we’ll get rid of the basement feeling.”

An adjustment of another sort affected the production of Fever Island scheduled to open last weekend at the Westport Coffee House. With opening night less than a week away, the play’s writer, Steve Carr, pulled the plug himself for a reason that hasn’t always stopped other productions: The show wasn’t ready.

“I just couldn’t put it on,” Carr says. “As a writer, the last thing I want is for the people to see what I’ve written and go, ‘Oh my God.'” He adds that he will mount the show later, slightly recast.

Categories: A&E, Stage