“The Sty of the Blind Pig”
8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. Through Nov. 1. $20-$35. True Colors Theatre, Southwest Arts Center, 915 New Hope Road, Atlanta. 1-877-725-8849, truecolorstheatre.org.
By Wendell Brock
Weedy Warren is a Southern transplant living in a Chicago apartment building before the civil rights era. She cloaks her troubles in the hats and dresses of her church-going life and never misses a chance to berate her spinster daughter, Alberta, about the bad habits of liquor, pills and taking up with strange men.
This is the world of Philip Hayes Dean’s “The Sty of the Blind Pig,” a 1971 play that presaged the dramas of August Wilson and looks at mother-daughter relationships with a bleakly horrific vision akin to that of Martin McDonagh and Flannery O’Connor.
By turns a rollicking domestic comedy and a mysterious, devastating tragedy about the high costs of loneliness and despair, “Sty of the Blind Pig” has been resurrected by Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre in a thoughtful and solid production running through Nov. 1 at Southwest Arts Center.
Director Andrea Frye’s staging showcases the estimable talents of the uproariously funny Margo Moorer (Weedy) and Tonia Jackson (Alberta) but can’t quite smooth the seams of Dean’s rupturing soul of a play, which bristles with biting comedy before unveiling a dreamlike passage recalling the supernatural turbulence of Wilson’s most mesmerizing work.
As in Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean” and “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” a superficially calm domestic scene is upset by the arrival of a stranger with a troubled past, which will eventually be exposed to devastating consequences. The sojourner here is Blind Jordan (Jahi Kearse), a presumably blind blues howler who awakens the heart of Alberta. Kearse plays this guitar-strumming naif with a studied sweetness that makes his character’s 11th-hour revelations all the more unsettling. It’s a likable performance that sometimes feels more self-consciously calibrated than authentic.
Jackson, by contrast, evinces an Alberta who is all over the place in mood and still fully believable: world-weary yet joyous, disappointed yet hopeful, ticked off at her manipulative mother, yet preternaturally attached to her coattails.
From scene to scene, the story feels stylistically and tonally imprecise, and we sometimes don’t know exactly where we are in time. Sequences end abruptly, and we strain to figure out whether hours — or months — have passed. Dunsi Dai’s set captures the ordinary world of the Warren household. Reggie Ray’s costumes help tell the characters’ stories — check out the spats, the red vest and the derby of Weedy’s numbers-playing brother, Doc (Earl Billings). But Alberta’s hallucinogenic, flashback scene could use a little finesse in the technology department.
Still, I wouldn’t miss a chance to see Moorer. An actress who has made a career playing salty-tongued, righteous, ridiculous and irascible women, Moorer exudes enough heat and energy to peel paint off the walls. Jackson holds her own with the scenery-chewing Moorer, but Weedy is the comedic cyclone that blows this spiritually and erotically charged battle of wills to its sad and unsettling conclusion.