BWW Reviews: FAT PIG Is An Enjoyable But Disturbing Look at Our Body-Conscious Society
It's amazing how much sounds and noises made from the audience can be an accurate barometer of whether or not a performance is succeeding. Usually groans and hisses aren't a good sign, but in the case of Fat Pig, the anti-romantic comedy by Neil LaBute, such noises are a compliment, and Theatre En Bloc's current production earns its fair share of them. The show tackles the idea of how cruel we can be to people who don't fit society's size zero ideal of beauty. Needless to say, you may not leave feeling good about yourself or about humanity as a whole, but you'll be largely impressed by the astonishingly talented cast and LaBute's brash and unapologetic script.
LaBute's idea is incredibly simple and certainly one which has been discussed before, though not quite this effectively. Tom and Helen meet by chance, and immediately sparks fly. They date and find out very quickly that they're incredibly well matched. There's just one problem. The thin and handsome Tom is embarrassed by Helen's curvy figure, and his co-workers and their teasing doesn't help matters.
LaBute's brutally honest text weaves its social commentary with humor, and the result is the perfect vehicle for this four person cast. Zena Vaughn plays Helen as an intelligent, clever, and confident woman, though that confidence slowly unravels throughout the show. As Tom, Ryan Hamilton comes off as sweet, warm, and likeable, even in the numerous moments where his foot gets caught in his mouth. When together, the chemistry between Hamilton and Vaughn is electric, and it's clear they're having fun with LaBute's captivating banter.
Rounding out the cast, Charles P. Stites and Jenny Lavery excel in their supporting roles. Stites is spot-on as Tom's friend and co-worker, Carter, a character who can best be described as a gigantic jerk. We all know this guy. He's that one friend who must have a list of misogynistic jokes just floating about in his head. Though he gets some of the most terrible and uncomfortable things to say, Stites carries it off in a way that makes you love and hate him. As Jeannie, Tom's co-worker and ex-girlfriend, Jenny Lavery is the dark horse of the show. Initially, Lavery's given little to do and seems to be there only to show us the skinny, archetypal beauties that Tom typically dates. Thankfully, the character gets a disgustingly angry explosion in Act II, and Lavery more than delivers when she finally gets meaty content to work with.
Though the content of Fat Pig is something that we've seen and heard many times over (Shallow Hal comes to mind), it's rarely presented this honestly or this intelligently. Fat Pig may have a big fat message, but it's never heavy-handed. This is a must see for any theatergoer who enjoys being challenged and loves seeing something that is uncomfortable and alarming but nonetheless enjoyable.
Note: Due to adult language, recommended for mature audiences only.
Running time: 2 hours including one 15 minute intermission.
FAT PIG, produced by Theatre En Bloc, plays The Off Center at 2211 Hidalgo St, Austin, 78702 now thru October 20th. Performances are Thursdays - Sundays at 8pm. Tickets are $20-$35. For tickets and more information, visit www.theatreenbloc.org.