BWW Reviews: FAT PIG Examines What It Takes To Live Up To Your Convictions
FAT PIG, Neil LaBute's award-winning, stingingly witty romance about love in the modern age of body image and peer pressure premiered in 2004 at the MCC Theater in New York City, winning the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Play, and was seen in Los Angeles at the Geffen Playhouse in 2007. The current revival taking place at the Hudson Mainstage Theatre through June 1 is directed with a sure hand and deep understanding of modern human weakness by Alexis Jacknow.
"People might look at the title and think it's going to be about one thing, but it turns out - in the end - to ultimately be about something quite different," explains LaBute. "It's a study in weakness - particularly the weakness of this man who falls in love with someone, and then doesn't have the backbone, the spine to live up to those convictions."
FAT PIG tells the story of Tom (Jonathan Bray), a young career guy who hits it off with Helen (Deidra Edwards), a bright, sexy woman who happens to be plus-sized. As he reluctantly finds himself falling in love, Tom's colleagues (Kirsten Kollender and Nick Stabile) are brutal in their assessment of his new love. LaBute probes our carb-counting, extreme makeover nation by asking tough questions. How much has our relentless pursuit of beauty turned us into an uglier species?
As it turns out, the loveliest and most honest person in the play is Helen, yet she suffers the most being judged strictly on her appearance rather than her heart and soul which are good, clean and pure. Deidra Edwards is a wonder in the role, giving us a Helen who is completely comfortable with who she is and what she wants out of life, despite the frequent name-calling she receives from others. "People should just go with what they have" is her motto. But of course in today's body image is everything society, a plus-size woman has an uphill battle to obtaining her goals, especially when it comes to love.
"Despite the title of the play, it's Tom's story," asserts Director Jacknow, who recently worked as LaBute's associate director on L.A. Theatre Works' production of Reasons to be Happy. "It's about being able to claim your own happiness in the face of societal pressure. It speaks to everyone."
Tom is a good guy at heart, thrilled to have met a woman with a great laugh and a potty mouth who offers him the kind of love he has never experienced before. And while he tells Helen he is accepting of her voluptuous curves, he is hesitant to introduce her to his friends and co-workers for fear of their reaction to her size. And of course, he is right. Jonathan Bray brilliantly expresses both Tom's deep joy with Helen as well as his insurmountable fear of how others will judge him for loving a plus-sized woman. Poor Helen understands, as no doubt she has been through this pattern with men before.
Nick Stabile is the playfully handsome Carter, one of Tom's work colleagues. Carter is the epitome of today's lazy, spoiled, over-sexed, think I deserve it all and it had better be the best type man. Stabile's shocked expression and absolute disbelief when he realizes Tom's new love is a plus-sized woman certainly speaks to how society looks upon those of us who do not resemble emaciated runway models. But why is it that Tom cares more about what his friends think than how he really feels about Helen? Isn't a wonderful, mutually loving relationship worth more than eye candy to your friends? I guess it depends on the type of people you call friends.
Kirsten Kollender, on the other hand, perfectly fits into the tiny red bikini and short dresses Tom's co-worker Jeannie wears at the office. But even though she looks great and certainly gets more attention from men than Helen does, Jeannie is mean-spirited, angry and suspicious of everyone. When Carter lets it slip that Tom is dating someone, Jeannie's jealousy overcomes her as she truly believes Tom was hers for the taking. When she meets Helen, Kollender lets her innermost anger reflect not only the deep disappointment Jeannie feels but also her wonderment at how could Tom possibly choose a "fat pig" over her?
So is it better to be good-hearted or good-looking? The answer seems to be good-hearted in private and good-looking in public, no matter what is lost in the process. Neil LaBute certainly knows our superficial society well, and Michael Donovan's casting along with Jacknow's direction of these four talented actors will have you loving and hating them, then walking away shaking your head at the stupidity that lives in all of us.
Set design for FAT PIG is by Hazel Kuang; lighting design is by Donny Jackson; sound design is by Chris Rummel; costume design is by Michael Mullen; production stage manager is Angelica Estevez; and Racquel Lehrman, Theatre Planners produces.
FAT PIG continues on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m through June 1. General admission is $30. The Hudson Mainstage is located at 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90038. For information and to purchase tickets, call (323) 960-7788 or go to www.plays411.com/fatpig.