What does it mean to be gay? As two straight people we’ll probably never fully be able to answer that question. But, if you learn anything from Tim Luscombe’s PIG it’s that being gay can be complex, weird, ever-changing and something unique to every individual.
PIG is sexual, disturbing, haunting, challenging, and at times confusing. It took Buddies in Bad Times Theatre’s Artistic Director, Brendan Healy, almost four years to bring PIG to the stage and now it is finally here. The play, set over eight years in the underbelly of London’s gay fetish scene focuses on the one, two, or maybe three relationships of CUNTBOY/PIG/JOE (played by Paul Dunn), GOURGEOUS FUCKER/KNIFE/STEVIE (played by Blair Williams) and HARRY/BARRY/LARRY/GARRY (played by Bruce Dow)…Like we said, the play can be confusing.
|Photo: Jeremy Mimnagh|
An interwoven storyline exploring a need, want, and obsession with sex and fantasy – fetishized, objectified, and incessant – is PIG. In a fast-paced and multi-dimensional world, three actors portray an interwoven depiction of addiction and choice in this raw and ruthless story. Like an argument between lust and intimacy, the destructive relationship between Joe and Stevie invites the audience to question how they relate to our most brutal and socially suppressed urge to welcome pain, control, need, possessiveness, self-destruction, and addiction in the realm of sexual fantasy.
Stevie and Joe, Knife and Pig, they interlace and interlock and act as binaries although, between the 4 of them, they’re only two people. Top and bottom, light and dark – but not for long. Their friend, the comedic relief, the dazzling and honest Harry in her red ball gown begs for them to stay away from the dark side; to keep their wits, to maintain some sense of normalcy within a world that simply doesn’t conform, to fight the urge to lose all control. Harry sees their power in togetherness. Their need to experience the extremes. A partnership with Joe that he yearns for but will never have. Harry sees this spark between Stevie and Joe, and knows the fire that it could ignite. But what is it that is keeping them all apart? At the core, Joe does not have HIV. He’s “young” and “hot” and he has a history with these men – a relationship. Joe means something to his regulars and to Stevie. He’s their “punch bag” and he likes it. So when Joe breaks down and agrees to take Stevie’s seed, like a light switch, the tone of the performance flips. While the first act of PIG sucks the audience into the twisted and heavy territory of its characters, the second act succumbs to Joe’s internal need for connection by accepting HIV, and as the story suggests, death.
“Something so deep can’t be written out of existence,” Stevie says to Joe. Their need for each other seeps into their art and their souls and, like a bad addiction, they cannot separate. This is the truth behind PIG that gives it such a great light. Stevie and Joe, the external, Knife and Pig, the internal – a combination of “being” that we all have the power to experience, but it’s PIG that lets us explore how willing we are to control the choices we make.
|Photo: Jeremy Mimnagh|
What Luscombe does best, and what I think Healy was challenged by most, is focusing very centrally on the humanity behind many of the more unspoken and hidden elements of gay sexuality. Whips, beating, fucking with knives and baseball bats, addiction, ownership, prostitution, and conversion parties all play into the rigamarole that is the overlapping relationships of these characters and how they express love for one another.
In the beginning I found myself questioning and judging the character’s motivations. “He doesn’t love him, he just wants to control him.” “He’s sick and disturbed.” But quickly things changed. PIG has a lust to be tortured, a need that, throughout the play, he struggles with himself. KNIFE tries to both embrace and deny his need for PIG. While LARRY often vocalizes the changing acceptance of gay relationships in the public sphere of monogamy and marriage. The characters deal with expressing their feelings for each other, something everyone can relate to, in the face of explained and unexplained pressures. A desire to be tortured, a resistance to archetypes sustained by hetero-normative lifestyles, and the concept of death all toile at their psyche and progressively transform the characters in front of the audience’s eyes.
The most noticeable changes in motivation take place in Act II, and it was here that the play started to loose me. While in Act I everything is overwhelming and enthralling, Act II sees the characters, and somewhat the play itself, unravelling. The pace quickens and the characters begin to make choices that aren’t completely explained, resulting in actions not entirely believable. It seems as though, in Luscombe’s desire to confuse the audience, he confuses himself and his creations.
Despite all this, actors Dunn, Williams, and Dow do a fantastic job with their various characters and expertly switch between roles. In an emotionally difficult play these three carry the task and fill the play with a deep humanity I wasn’t expecting. It was because of these performances, and the complex and layered writing of Luscombe, that, as the curtain rose, I found myself feeling something deeply profound.
Most certainly this play is moving and a work that pushes the boundaries of theatre and concepts of sexuality; it is worth seeing.