Some of Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern’s most successful productions have been book adaptions. Its version of Nick Cave’s 1989 Southern gothic novel, “And the Ass Saw the Angel,” is a chilling world of zealots and lowlifes. The storyline, compressed into 80 minutes, is often hard to follow but the overall effect is haunting.
Nick Cave, the Australian songwriter and rock band leader, sets his novel in a Southern backwater where poor sugar cane workers struggle during the 1940s. Euchrid, mute and sickly, is born to a deranged father and an alcoholic mother, his only companion the family mule.
Later, after rains continue unabated for many months, a religious leader blames them on prostitute Cosey Mo, the only one who has taken pity on Euchrid. After she is brutally beaten by church members, Euchrid envisions himself an instrument of God and determines to wreak revenge. He targets young Beth, found on a doorstep the day the rains stopped, making her sacred to the religious community.
David Fellerath and Jeff Alguire’s sets, burlap-draped and filled with rusting junk around a ramshackle cabin and a rundown trailer, thrusts the audience into a gritty domain. Steve Tell’s shadowy lighting and Alex Maness and Nick Karner’s nightmarish videos enhance the effect. William Dawson plays his ominously atmospheric score throughout.
Director Dana Marks elicits strong portrayals from seven actors playing two dozen characters. Emily Holladay Anderson’s forlorn but creepy Euchrid responds silently to his thoughts in voiceover by Shelby Hahn, also memorable as wheelchair-bound busybody Wilma. Jaybird O’Berski gives the mule (a life-size puppet) otherworldly voice and frighteningly inhabits maniacal preacher Abie.
Jeffrey Detwiler impresses as Euchrid’s grimy, ornery Pa, while Tony Perucci makes religious leader Sardus suitably obsessed. Caitlin Wells lolls about sensuously as Cosey Mo and innocently as Beth. Tamara Kissane’s puritanical Hilda is spot-on but is too loudly intense as Euchrid’s Ma.
Adaptors John Justice and Jaybird O’Berski understandably include much of the original’s heightened language, but it’s so densely packed that it can confuse those unfamiliar with the book. Further problems come from overlapping acting, voiceovers, music and video, offering conflicting stimuli.
Still, the production creditably recreates the novel’s alarming, fanatical realm.
If you go
What: “And the Ass Saw the Angel” presented by Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern
Where: Manbites Dog Theater, 703 Foster Street, Durham
When: 8:15 p.m. May 22-23 and 28-30; June 3-6
Tickets: $10-$15 (students $5-$10, seniors/military $2 off)
Info: 919-682-3343 or manbitesdogtheater.org