BY LINDSAY HARRIS-FRIEL FRINGE CORRESPONDENT Damn you, Pig Iron. You magnificent bastards have done it again; created theatre so joyfully compelling it takes everyone who sees it far outside their selves and turns every theatre artist outside your realm emerald green with envy. Come on down to Yuba City. You’ll travel down a stretch of highway so lonely you’re grateful for the broken fluorescent sign with an arrow pointing the way to the diner, and the glaring streetlamp bordering the parking lot. Set designer Mimi Lien and lighting designer James Clotfelder have created a place where the real and abstract have crashed into each other, with a physical depth of scope that will make you want to see this show more than once to experience varying sightlines. The scale ranges from the wide open vista where cyclists race and horned creatures dance with fire in the darkness to the tiny, touching details; the dishes described on the menu (including Jackalope), the slits of shadow from the horizontal blinds. Every empty warehouse in Philadelphia should be turned into performance space, if it can be as inventive as this.
The troupe of seven actors inhabits many unique characters, each so fully realized as to make you forget that this isn’t performed by a much larger cast. At first, when we see these bodies hewn by work, time and weather, and hear the twang of their voices, it’s too easy for the audience to laugh. Then the performers stretch and mold the characters further into something incredibly human and superhuman. It’s hard to laugh or applaud with this show for fear of shattering the moment. The people of Yuba City are so charged by their convictions that to laugh when, for example, a diabetic tries to overdose on a jar of peppermints or when an FBI agent sings a tender goodbye song to his mother as an alien eats his brain, is to do the character a disservice. At the same time, to not validate these unique moments is a crime.
Pig Iron is to movement what Mozart is to musical notes. This show includes a tango ballet of elegant, threatening subterfuge by a squad of FBI agents, the most thrilling fight sequence you’ll see this year, and a swing dance number that would make Frankie Manning smile from ear to ear. No moment in this play requires verbal expression, though Deborah Stein’s text has enough poetry to satisfy. As one character says, Yuba City is a world of peculiar gravity and magnetism; another describes it as a precipice, and a great time to be alive. Once again, Pig Iron’s created a magical world that spins on its own axis. Make sure you don’t miss it.