When it was first performed, in 1996, Disco Pigs set tongues wagging, and Enda Walsh on his way to becoming an award-winning playwright. (Among his many credits: He’s won a Tony Award for the Broadway hit Once, and also collaborated with David Bowie on the musical Lazarus, shortly before the musician’s death.) Revivals are always interesting as origin stories of sorts, a chance to look back on a career that’s since bloomed and grown. Yet watching Disco Pigs twenty years on, it isn’t Walsh’s prodigious voice that strikes one the most. The production at Irish Rep — smart, sharp, and tight as a time bomb — is perhaps most interesting now for the way in which the play captures the trials and errors of a certain harrowing masculinity.
Runt and Pig — Sinéad and Darren to their mums — were born in the same hospital at the same time in County Cork. Ill-fitted to the world around them, the two protected themselves and each other by creating their own. They anoint themselves king and queen of “Pork Sity.” They speak their own language, too, gargling and spitting slipstreams of slang, a Poto and Cabengo of their council estate.
Walsh has long been praised for his whirligig wordsmithing, inventing syntaxes and slangs that bend our ears to the particular music of his characters’ minds. (Audiences craving more Walsh this season can also catch Ballyturk, currently in production at St. Ann’s Warehouse.) Runt-and-Pig-ese is not unlike the Nadsat tongue Anthony Burgess crafted for his teen sociopaths in A Clockwork Orange. It’s dissonant, disjointed (“A hippidy happidy innit?”), as well as lavish, romantic: “Pump pump pump pump oh fuck my head ja luvly beat deep inta me an take me home ta beddy byes an pump me more to sleep soft and loss lost…” swoons Pig about the thumping club rhythms that move him.
As plots go, Disco Pigs belongs to the lineage of Bonnie and Clyde, though Runt and Pig aren’t motivated enough for stick-ups, or to go on the lam. (“Ya seen da movie!” Runt exclaims, in a wink from Walsh to the audience. “Fannytastic, yeah!”) Though anti-establishment, the teens live only to guzzle down pints of beer and bottles of Bacardi, steal rides on the bus, pick fights, eat cheap food, soak up whatever’s on the telly, and dance in their favorite clubs. Richard Kent’s set is designed like an underground cell, a dank pressure cooker in which to watch their tale unfold.
Director John Haidar smartly preserves the feeling of a world of Runt and Pig’s own making, giving the actors no props to play with, their movements tightly choreographed to their words. As they mime the drinking and the beatings and the bus rides, they appear always to be battling forces seen and felt only by them. Although they’re working-class types, Walsh never goes looking to answer the why of their disaffected condition. Disco Pigs isn’t social commentary. It’s a love story.
It’s also a coming-of-age story, and a tragic one at that. Pig is violent; remorse eludes him, confuses him. Yet beneath the smoke and mirrors of his macho bluster is a young, delicate heart that’s all muscle and no grace. He terrorizes in great part because he is terrified. How is he to be a man in a world that has little use or understanding for him? The more pressing question: How is he to be a man who’s fallen in love with his best pal, Runt? Colin Campbell beautifully grounds the man-boy in each and every one of his registers — from the lashes of his unbridled id to his panicked flailing in the unknown depths of feeling. Evanna Lynch (beloved to Harry Potter fans as the ethereal Luna Lovegood) captures with clarity and compassion how Runt’s inner light is beginning to flicker on, and how thrilling and painful is the realization of what she may have to do in order to follow her own destiny.
Of the two, Runt is more interested in a life beyond her received lot. Pig, by comparison, isn’t much of a dreamer, living moment-to-moment like a foraging animal, following his nose, whetting his appetites. On their joint birthday, he surprises Runt with a trip to the sea, and they sit staring at the water, the waves, the night sky. We see the chasm widening between them: Runt wishes to immerse herself in it all, as Pig fantasizes about seeing it from above. “I wanna huge spaceship rocket la, take it up to da cosmos shiny stars all twinkle twinkle an I shit in my saucer an have a good look down on da big big blue.”
“Wha color’s love, Pig?” Runt asks him early in the play. It is at once a genuine question, and a test of his mettle. “Donno!” he shrugs. He’s later asked the same by a bouncer working the entrance at the Palace Disco, a near-mythical nightspot they’ve been searching for. Pig’s answer now — a simple, poetic password — opens the club door wide for them both. For Pig, this is a new place to dance; for Runt, it’s a new place to dream — but in the end, knowing what love is isn’t enough to keep these two from writing their own fates.