Throughout February, Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern will present the play “Celebration” at the Shadow Box in Durham.
The play follows a gathering for the 60th birthday of Father, the patriarch of the family. At this occasion, his son reads a prepared speech titled the “truth speech,” which is revealed not to be celebratory in nature but rather contains dark accusations towards his father. Reeling from the upset of the speech, the family grapples with what is the truth and the implications of such truth on their relationships.
“For me, ‘Celebration’ is about the disconnect between what we want to believe is true and what is actually true,” Tamara Kissane, who plays Mette, said. “There is a certain astonishment at the lengths that people will go to preserve that rosy delusion and there is admiration in the courage and danger of someone who does speak the truth.”
The play is adapted from a Danish film of the same name in translation, “Festen,” and is directed by Thomas Vinterberg. Although the play retains the plot and character elements of the film, how the story is told is fundamentally transformed by its translation to the stage.
“While we’re influenced by the film, we are not indebted to it. We don’t want to replicate a movie,” Jay O’Berski, Assistant Professor of the Practice of Theater Studies and actor of Christian, said. “We’re into the three dimensional aspects and the surreal aspects of life that are harder to depict in a film.”
O’Berski recounted a particular instance in the play when the director, Kevin Ewert, stages simultaneous happenings at one bed on the stage. The actors are choreographed as if they are in separate rooms, yet they are revolving around each other on a single bed. This example, among many other intriguing staging decisions, reveals the possibilities of theatre in understanding a familiar story in novel ways.
“Because of the creative spirits involved, there are notable differences in interpretation as the show was being crafted, but there’s a creative process in adaptation, especially to the stage,” Kissane said. “It is more visceral because it is unfolding right in front of you. The audience members are witnessing the play almost as closely as the people at the dinner party. It’s a different sort of empathy than what film can provide.”
The unique staging and edgy content are typical of a production from Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, a nonprofit theatre company that has been working in the Triangle area since 2005. Past productions have included “The Man Who Was Thursday” and “Our Town,” among others. Like "Celebration," prior shows have exhibited Little Green Pig’s commitment to nontraditional casting and confronting violent or erotic subject material.
“We have no expectations for our audience, but we like to do plays for adults,” O’Berski said. “Our main goal is to show how hilarious darkness is and how sad seemingly funny things can be. This is a great black comedy example of dark subject matter handled in a surreal manner.”
The theatre company got its name from playwright Martin McDonagh’s play “The Pillowman,” in which one of the main character’s short stories is titled ‘The Little Green Pig’ and concerns a green pig who does not conform to the pink preferences of his friends. Accordingly, Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern chooses not to conform to the traditional expectations of theater. Committing themselves to self-professed Enlightenment values, the theatre company seeks to be “accessible, strange and dreamlike but familiar and immediate,” according to their mission statement. Such qualities are promised in their latest production, “Celebration.”
“This production, like many other productions from Little Green Pig, tends to bring work out that is risky in terms of its content and style of delivery,” Kissane said. “It’s provocative in the best sense of the word. It is programming that should encourage folks to think about truth-telling.”
Kissane hopes that audiences will gain an appreciation for the local theater community, as well as gain a sense of compassion for people who tell the truth and people who have difficulty in encountering the truth, but O’Berski disagrees.
“‘Celebration’ has a deeper, darker psychology,” he said. “It’s rare that audiences are challenged in that way. What people take away is really ambiguous. It’s better that people argue what this experience means than feel like they understood and grasped it.”
“Celebration” will be showing Thurs. through Sat. from February 6 through February 22 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for general admittance and $8 for student admittance. More information can be found on the Little Green Pig's website.