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Pearl Among Swine 

"Blind Pig" was slang for a house of ill repute where women, whiskey and food were sold. The phrase takes on a wry double meaning in The Sty of the Blind Pig, recently given a rousing whirl at the Anthony Bean Community Theater. One of the characters is a blind musician with a sty in his past. He was born in a whorehouse in " where else " New Orleans.

The drama (that earned Phillip Hayes Dean the 1972 Drama Desk Award for most promising playwright) is set in an apartment in Chicago in the '50s. Weedy Warren (Patricia McGuire-Hill) shares the place with her daughter, Alberta (Gwendolyne Foxworth). They coexist more peaceably than the Palestinians and Israelis, but not by much. Both are highly emotional and it takes all the self-control they can muster to maintain a shaky truce. One of the shadows hanging over the place is Alberta's father, who deserted the family many years ago. Weedy has never forgiven him. A third member of the clan is Doc (Donald Lewis), Weedy's ne'er-do-well brother. He keeps hoping to hit the big one at this, that or the other scheme " maybe with one of the numbers he runs. In any case, he dresses like a sport and comes by often to knock down a nip of bourbon and see if he can't shake a few shekels from the old gal.

This drinking is one of Weedy's pet peeves because Alberta also calms her nerves with distilled spirits. 'I'm surrounded by whiskey heads," Weedy complains. Doc has volunteered to drive his sister to church (where she spends a good deal of time) as soon as Alberta gets home from work.

Weedy wants her daughter to write and deliver another of her beautiful obituaries " like one she did for a man named Emanuel. That memorable elegy was known as 'The Flight of the Purple Angels." Alberta refuses, and when her mother asks for the Emanuel piece to use as a model, Alberta says she threw it away and doesn't remember it.

After her mother and uncle leave, Alberta considers having a drink but resists the impulse. Instead, she takes out a Bible and removes a folded piece of paper from it. At first, we wonder if it's a letter. Then, we suspect this is 'The Flight of the Purple Angels" and has a deeply personal meaning for the woman.

Gradually, Alberta's drinking becomes more of a problem. She delivers an obituary but falls out of the pulpit and has to be revived. Another sore spot is her job. She's a cook for the Cotrell family and worries about taking too much time off. She makes it up by serving at the Cotrell's parties.

One day, when Alberta is alone, there's a knock on the door. She opens it to meet Blind Jordan (Will Williams), a street musician with an obsession: he must find a woman named Grace Waters. This woman is supposed to live on State Street in Chicago. It's a needle-in-a-haystack mission, but Jordan is determined. He goes from building to building, door to door. Jordan is a mysterious figure. Where did he come from? What is he really up to? He's the most taciturn and least developed of the characters, but he pushes the play into a maelstrom of otherwise suppressed feelings. Alberta, who is in some ways the most repressed, finally asks Jordan to stay with her although she can hardly admit to the physical desires she harbors. Or does she feel her attraction to Jordan is a kind of treachery? If so, to whom?

A special bravo goes to Foxworth who tops off her excellent portrayal of Alberta with a weirdly rhapsodic reliving of the funeral of Emanuel, with whom she was passionately but secretly in love. Foxworth gave us one of those rare moments in theater where the actor is way out there without a net. A moment's hesitation or dishonesty would have been disastrous, but she pulled it off.

The final scenes of the play reveal secrets of the past. Weedy has been carrying on with the pastor of her church and that's possibly why her husband left. Jordan has scars on his stomach where a woman cut him, but he choked her to death. Despite their climactic aspirations, however, these scenes lacked the magnetism of much of what came before.

Director Anthony Bean elicits fine performances from this dynamic cast of veterans. Diane Shortes' costumes were noteworthy as was Lyn Caliva's lighting. Somewhat raw and explosive " though certainly not without a dollop of humor " Blind Pig stays with you long after the house lights come up.

click to enlarge The Sty of the Blind Pig takes place in pre-Civil Rights-era Chicago.
  • The Sty of the Blind Pig takes place in pre-Civil Rights-era Chicago.
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