nytheatre.com review by Emily Otto
August 15, 2009
In the dystopian future world of Egg Farm, two haunted-looking vaudevillian clowns beckon their audience to participate in an experiment of ultimate sacrifice. The two clowns, Bobbitt (Chris Grant) and Little Brother (Nick Mills), gleefully divulge the details of a new technology in which humans are given the opportunity to martyr themselves for the cause of improved humanity. Their souls will be crossbred with a chicken, creating a blank-slate, flawless populace.
From the very top of the show, director Wes Grantom cleverly establishes an atmosphere that is a delightful combination of the macabre and the comic. Ominous clanging and whirring noises fill the theatre, and the performers enter in an eerie light. Dressed identically in black and white, their pale painted faces and black-rimmed eyes give the impression that they're already half in the grave. But as they prance about the stage, joyfully singing a jazz ditty extolling the virtues of the egg farm (and using a cheap electric keyboard to great effect), their energetic huckster act is almost enough to make us believe in their cause.
As the performance progresses, the actors shift gears at lightning speed, portraying the many people who have come to sacrifice their lives for the cause. Each potential donor is seated in a sort of death chamber, where they are interviewed by a disembodied voice (played by an effectively sinister Joe Gallagher), asked to explain their reasons for participating, and then eliminated with a flash of light and a loud crash. Though varying dialects are occasionally used for cheap comic effect, these sections of the play allow Mills and Grant to display virtuoso performances of a dizzying array of characters. Some of the wannabe martyrs aren't exactly the brightest bulbs on the tree, but others are genuinely sympathetic characters who have given up on the value of their lives. I was consistently engaged with their stories.
The stakes are raised considerably at the announcement that the breeding chicken has fallen ill and will likely die. Bobbitt and Little Brother are commanded to round up everyone possible for the experiment, regardless of their willingness to participate. The tone of the show grows darker and darker as people rebel and lives are unwittingly lost. Though the experiment exists to conquer the fallibility of humans, we see that the quest for perfection is inevitably messy.
The trajectory of the show is an effective one: the shift in mood comes on so slowly that the audience barely notices the path from detached laughter to engaged horror. I will admit that a music and movement sequence set to "Rabbit in Your Headlights" by UNKLE pulled the piece out of focus for me, since it seemed too obvious a choice to convey increasing creepiness and was somewhat clumsily executed. Aside from that brief misstep, however, complex ideas and strong performances make Egg Farm, which is written by Bill Heck and Nick Mills, a savagely funny and unsettling piece of theatre.