Reviewed by Jon R. Coggins
It can be difficult to stage theatrical productions in the summertime. With so many “outside” activities, vacations and sometimes simply the heat – it’s difficult to capture an audience. This then becomes an excellent time to roll out an alternative/experimental piece of theater – where groups and individuals can stretch their performance wings, expand their repertoire and present an out of the box production without alienating their core constituency. Flint Community Players presentation of Fat Pig by Neil LaBute is one such vehicle.
Directed by Mark Vukelich – Fat Pig – is billed as a dark comedy that explores the last “acceptable” form of societal bias – the obese. The script was challengingly weak – relying on stale ideals, stock characters and unsatisfying outcomes. This can be said about a lot of theatre and it’s up to the cast and crew to overcome these negatives in order to entertain an audience. FCP’s cast did just that.
In many ways it’s a standard love story – boy meets girl, couple falls in love, and then overcomes obstacles to reach a happy conclusion. In Fat Pig our hero, Tom portrayed by Chazz Irwin has an awkward and unexpected encounter with Helen, played by newbie Lea Brandon, at an overcrowded restaurant where they end up sharing a table. Tom is smitten with Helen – Helen is fat. The couple then grows their relationship – even as Helen is leery of Tom’s motives and Tom’s affection is challenged by his co-workers disgust.
Irwin does justice to this role appropriately flustered by his office mates, as he tries to veil his new love interest, lovingly accepting Helen, though society deems she is unworthy due to her size. Tom runs the gamut of emotions – and appears to be able to blush on demand – as the relationship grows. The haltingly awkward first encounter, the secret rendezvous, the lazy day in bed together, the frustrating dealings with his office mates and the final decision regarding the triste all are portrayed convincingly.
Brandon brings a certain freshness to Helen. Accepting of her “condition” she unapologetically enjoys her food, is a bit sassy, and understands that she will probably never find true love. Ms. Brandon gives us the uneasy first minutes of the meeting with Tom, the skeptical and leery first few encounters – growing into a full blown “could this be the one even though I’m fat” realization that Tom is truly falling in love with her. I found her quite endearing.
My one complaint, and it resonated throughout the show, was that Brandon was hard to hear at times. In the intimate performance space at FCP (or any venue) this is not acceptable.
In another stock role – Carl Mizell plays Carter, Tom’s lay about workmate who challenges, and vexes Tom’s choice of woman going so far as to tell Tom to run away as he is too good looking to settle for the flawed and obese. It is a task to bring stock characters to life and Mizell does just that. He is greasy, annoying and eventually disgusting as he plays the devil sitting on Tom’s shoulder. I wanted Tom to belt him. It was Mizell’s job to bring the discord and he succeeded.
Another office mate – Jeannie – played by Andrea Anthony brought some of the most dramatic work to this show. She is Tom’s on again off again office romance. She can’t quite figure Tom out, and grows increasingly upset that Tom has apparently thrown her over for an obese lover. Their spats brought some fire and energy to the stage. Anthony overcomes the stock character constraints and brings Jeannie to life. In the end we can’t sympathize with her biased attitude, but we do feel sorry for her loss.
Vukelich’s set is spartan and except for a few changing set pieces fits the bill for all the various locales presented. (A beach towel or two would have helped portray the final as a beachfront). Scenes were delineated by stagehands Ryan Fuhst and Nick Weiss with placards, a timely flashlight and a quick/clever nod of the head.
I didn’t find much “humor” in this billed “dark comedy” – probably due to the heaviness of the subject. Perhaps a better description is a “dramatic examination of societal mores”. I won’t divulge the ending but one could see the outcome a mile away.
Though playgoers may leave saddened and a tad disheartened, they will be entertained, possibly educated a bit or at least forced to look into their own biases. Perhaps – just maybe – they will reexamine their own thoughts on the subject.
Kudos to FCP for presenting this challenging piece. Fat Pig continues through June 19th at the Tom and Bea Nobles Performance Hall, 2462 S. Ballenger Hwy, Flint, MI– where by the way – it is refreshingly air-conditioned. For tickets and more information contact the box office at 810-441-9302 or online at http://www.flintcommunityplayers.com