The Sty of the Blind Pig, ETA Creative Arts Foundation. Phillip Hayes Dean’s play was apparently electrifying in its 1971 New York premiere at the Negro Ensemble Company: it won a Drama Desk Award and a Dramatists Guild Hull-Warner Award. Unfortunately this ETA Creative Arts production doesn’t provide the legendary fire of the original.
Back in the day, “blind pig” meant a whorehouse. Set in Chicago in 1955, the story takes the audience to the intersection of sexual and religious ecstasy. Alberta (Tina Marie Wright), a lonely unmarried woman in her 30s, lives in a soon-to-be-condemned apartment with her pious, overbearing mother, Weedy (Elizabeth Shivers). Alberta has a gift for delivering ecstatic eulogies at funerals. Weedy’s numbers-playing brother, Uncle Doc (J.J. McCormick), frequently drops by to have a taste of whiskey and take Alberta’s side in the mother-daughter power struggles. One day a blind musician (Vincent DeJan) arrives on their doorstep, offering a song in exchange for supper. Alberta accommodates him–again and again.
The emotional highlight of the evening comes when Alberta delivers a eulogy in full Pentecostal rapture. In her fevered despair, the words “Take me, Jesus!” are a plea to be transported from this life, which offers only hardship. But though McCormick’s Doc is lively and endearing, and Shivers as the manipulative mama admirably avoids the “mammy” stereotype, the play offers no ultimate payoff. A stranger visits, nature rises, and life goes on.