Review: In ‘Usus,’ Pig Latin Gets Lost in Translation

As befits a play set among an order of 14th-century friars, “Usus” occasionally uses Latin words. Sort of. It’s likely that most audience members will understand “vile rat astard-bay” without resorting to a dictionary because pig Latin is still a living language.

That the monks in T. Adamson’s play slip into ig-pay Atin-lay is par for the course since their speech mixes eruditely cryptic references (to those who haven’t spent time in a seminary) and a vernacular that at times feels ripped from TikTok.

The show, which opens the 2024 edition of Clubbed Thumb’s popular Summerworks series at the Wild Project in the East Village of Manhattan, is about a small group of Franciscan friars worked up by Pope John XXII (pronounced X-X-I-I) declaring their vow of poverty heretical. After all, the brothers (pronounced bros) are merely following the precepts of their patron saint, Francis of Assisi, and that shouldn’t make them dissidents.

In between preparing a letter of complaint to their boss, the men go about their brotherly business. Bernard (Ugo Chukwu), for example, is accumulating scientific knowledge about the mole rats rooting in the garden. JP (Annie Fang) is a young goofball who often finds himself awed by the brusque, brainy Paul (Crystal Finn, whose own play “Find Me Here” closes out Summerworks). “It’s so cool how you know all this lore and expanded universe stuff,” JP says after Paul brings up the First Council of Nicaea.

JP (Annie Fang), right, is a young goofball; Paul (Crystal Finn), is brusque and brainy. Credit…Maria Baranova

Paul is a bit of an alpha bro, more articulate than the others, more learned — or at least more willing to wield his knowledge — and he directs the writing of the letter to the Pope, instructing Bernard to include the accusation that “John X-X-I-I is the earthly materialization of Antichrist.”

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