Review: From the Pig Pile: the Requisite Gesture(s) of Narrow Approach by Salvage Vanguard Theater
by David Glen Robinson

(photo: SVT)

From the Pig Pile: the Requisite Gesture(s) of Narrow Approach is an ambitious and lavish work supported by the National Performance Network (NPN). It is also difficult to categorize in any theatre textbook way, but that shouldn’t keep anyone away from its table of delights.

The company tells us that they developed the show over three years with many rehearsals and creative help from nonresident artists. Written by Sibyl Kempson in collaboration with the Austin 'pig pile,' directed by Jenny Larson and Shaw Sides, the work deliberately lacks a plot. During the performance the players reminded the audience of that, gently or ham-handedly mocking anyone wanting or expecting narrative plotlines.

Most hilariously, one performer loudly offered “plot resolution vouchers” for anyone seeking closure at the end of the show. Sure enough, these were single pages of text handed out to anyone who surrendered the voucher. Of course, it was the same mixed up imagery without a shred of explanation, exactly what we had enjoyed throughout the show. It was a joke the audience could take home with it.

For those insisting on categorization, the closest this reviewer can come to one is this: a nonlinear non-narrative of actors acting. And playing music. And playing jokes on the crowd. And other stuff.

The twentieth century linguistic anthropologist Edward Sapir lectured on the inescapability of language and its structures. He would invite audience members to concoct and speak any sequence of nonsense syllables.  Then he would parse the grammar of the sequence, and identify the language being spoken with nonsense syllables instead of words. He was never known to miss.  Something similar was happening in From the Pig Pile.


The progress and forms of this enveloping performance event are all those of Absurdism, not that the cast was keeping any secrets. Absurdist tropes ran repeatedly throughout the performance: feigned anger at the audience, instant mood changes, monologues that went nowhere, feigned copulation by cartoonish characters, characters that jumped out of windows or off a ship’s deck, songs played over and over, meanings and manifestos that weren’t. The absurdist presentation was worthy of Ionesco.


What set the show apart, however, was its gentleness and caring for the audience. Tea, broth, and trail mix were served at various times to those attending; after all, the crowd had to keep up its strength. Audience members who'd been humiliated were later encouraged and praised. But the humiliation could be strong and stinging, as when half the audience was talked into wearing paper toilet seat protectors around their necks as life preservers.

Hannah Kenah (photo: SVT)

Fourth wall: what fourth wall? The cast was all over us. But after the embarrassing yucks, everyone felt wanted, as co-creators of the show. This kind of accomplishment is rare in competitive, modern theatre. Though perhaps some in the audience didn’t know what had just happened, the  crowd yet cheered loudly at the curtain call. That, at least, gave a passing nod to tradition.


Ben Schave and Lisa Laratta designed the complex set. Connor Hopkins added a few of his excellent puppets. Salvage Vanguard Theatre is to be commended especially for making almost every square inch of itself a functioning performance space, including its parking lot and public sidewalks two blocks in every direction.

(photo: SVT)

The public is well advised to catch this show if ever it is revived. Its lavishness indicated considerable production expense, however, and there may be a significant interval before you have the chance to see it again.

From the Pig Pile: the Requisite Gesture(s) of Narrow Approach
by Sibyl Kempson
Salvage Vanguard Theater

April 03 - April 19, 2014
Salvage Vanguard Theater
2803 E Manor Rd
Austin, TX, 78722

April 3rd -13th Thursday- Sunday night at 8pm 
April 17th- 18th at 8pm and April 19th at 7pm as part of the Fusebox Festival

Tickets: $20 April 3rd- 13TH. Performances are free April 17th- 19th with a Fusebox Festival Registration. April 4th is a VIP event, tickets $35 include a fancy meal by a local chef at the end of the performance and a party with the artists. 

Tickets can be purchased at for April 3rd – 13th and reserved at for April 17th- 19th.