Story by Snir Spinner
Like an early Spring garden, the rustic stage at Space in Evanston is tilled, planted and anxiously awaiting the impending bloom of Pigpen Theatre Company. A patch of drums, a few amplifier bushes, a row of keyboard hedges, bass, electric and banjo guitars all standing straight at attention, like flower stems gilded with a silent veneer – quivering with the vibrations of the excited audience as they take their seats, ready to burst in a profusion of colorful sights and sounds…Arya Shahi lets out a soft beat on the bass drum and Curtis Gillen joins with a smooth bass solo. Like the rush of the clouds before a gathering storm, the room is swept with a static energy that rolls into claps of thunderous applause as Alex Falberg (banjo), Ben Ferguson (electric guitar), Dan Weschler (Keyboard and Accordian), Matt Nuernberger (Guitar, and everything else), and Ryan Melia take the stage!
Pigpen Theatre Company, now 10 years in the making, was formed in Carnegie Mellon School of Drama in Pittsburgh, PA by a group of “Child Geniuses” (The New Yorker) who found a common passion for music, fun, theatrics and most importantly, storytelling. Producing four original plays and releasing 3 full-length LPs in the past decade, their passion for creativity is evident in every production they perform in, and every stage they rock out on.
The show starts with a beautiful piece from their latest play “Hunter and the Bear” (which premiered at Writers Theatre in Glencoe, IL, 2016). Then turns quickly to some original old favorites and of course their classic crowd pleasers like “Bremen” (from their production “Old Man and the Old Moon”) and “Mayfly” (my personal favorite). Their stage presence and musical interactions truly resemble children at play – oblivious to their surroundings, the audience or the passage of time, and obviously charged by their own creation to plumb the emotional depths of their unique personality and musicality.
However the limelight did not shine on the stage alone. Halfway through the performance all guitars are unplugged, the accordion is picked up (a marching Tom drum is also found quickly) and the band comes down into the audience to play a mini “unplugged” set featuring dramatic harmonies, simple melodies and unending amounts of raw talent. The audience becomes embraced in the sound in a personal way, and is almost sad to see their champion heralds and bards return to the modern medium.
As true artists and thespians tend to do, Pigpen is delighted with the interactions of the masses and stay long after the show is over to receive personal applause, adulation and stories of inspiration and reverence. My only regret was owning all of their purchasable recordings, and having no new music to bring home with me. Thank you Pigpen, for gracing Chicago with your presence. Until next time…