How important are other people’s opinions when it comes to what makes us happy? Is the judgement you receive from other people enough to completely control the decisions you make in life? We see many stories that tackle this subject, and Passion Theatre’s production of Fat Pig by Neil LaBute is another interesting and important addition.
At the outset of the play, we are introduced to a woman and man eating lunch in a very packed food court. The woman, Helen (Rachel Steigley), invites the man, Tom (Dominic Pnacek), to sit at the empty seat at her table. What might seem like your typical “meet cute” scenario in a romantic comedy is undercut in this case by a noticeable difference between these two characters. Helen is an overweight woman who is eating three slices of pizza and Tom is a thinner man eating a salad. In spite of what society might think of them, they begin a tenuous relationship after this introduction. Helen owns the fact that she is not what the world might think of as a “typical woman”. Tom, while attracted to Helen, can’t figure out how to escape the judgement of two coworkers/friends, asshole Carter (Denis Koepke) and Tom's former love interest Jeannie (Ally Nacarato).
Director Jonah Conner has assembled a group of young actors who attack this relevant story, creating realistic and relatable characters. While the title might suggest that the plot follows Helen, we actually don’t see much of her life outside of her interactions with Tom. While this is obviously the choice of the playwright, it is also a missed opportunity. Steigley does wonders with this role despite not having much character development outside of her relationship. Helen is a strong woman, on the surface, someone who knows she is seen as “different” but embraces those differences. We see subtle cracks in that resolve as her relationship with Tom begins to fatigue, which Steigley handles beautifully. We see Tom’s life from both the perspective of his love life and his work life. Pnacek does an especially good job establishing different kinds of chemistry with his three co-stars: the growing relationship between Tom and Helen, the frat bro jokes and immaturity with Carter, and the suspicion that Jeannie might have been the love that got away. Carter and Jeannie could easily fall into caricature, the two beautiful people comically judging the lesser beings, but Koepke and Nacarato find ways to mine more from their characters through key moments in the story. Koepke’s monologue about growing up with his overweight mother reveals that Carter might not be as strong willed as we are originally led to believe. Nacarato imbues Jeannie with the insecurities of someone who is constantly judging others, at least partially so that she won’t be judged herself.
The show moves between scenes of Tom and Helen’s budding romance and Tom’s office where his friends first try to pry information out of him about his new girlfriend, eventually judging him for falling in love. While the scenes themselves are relatively short, pacing did slow a bit during the less argumentative moments. However, LaBute's conversational dialogue, which can sometimes be a bit tricky to make “real”, is handled well by all four actors.
Special attention must be paid to projection design by Jason Tisdale. Each location was established onstage with only a few pieces of furniture, with details about the location being provided primarily by images projected on three screens just above the actors. None of the images were distracting during the various scenes, but immediately gave us a hint of where each new scene took place. Projections were also used very effectively in moments at the very beginning and the very end of the play, giving us a striking visual representation of what this story is all about. Lighting design by Quinn Nichols moved the plot along between various locations, but was a bit dark during a few moments with actors needing more stage space.
Theatre is an outlet that allows us to tackle and analyze some of life’s uncomfortable issues. We all have our own beliefs about body image and the importance society places on beauty. I encourage you to catch Fat Pig during the rest of its run. We might not always like what we see presented on the stage, but it is a discussion worth having.
Passion Theatre Group’s production of Fat Pig by Neil LaBute continues its run at Bullock Creek Auditorium tonight, Saturday, April 27th at 8:00pm and Sunday, April 28th at 3:00pm. Tickets can be purchased at the door or at passiontheatre.ticketleap.com.