Saturday, November 21, 2009

"Fat Pig": ☼ ☼ ☼

They meet innocently enough at a lunch counter. Tom (Jud Williford) is young and handsome, dressed in a smart business suit and tie; Helen (Liliane Klein) is pretty and dressed equally well, but there is one obvious difference: she is perhaps 100 pounds overweight. He is eating a salad. She has eaten three slices of pizza and has several containers of chocolate pudding. She offers him one, which he accepts with pleasure. They banter back and forth and Tom finds himself attracted to Helen, and she to him.

What follows is partly a discussion of America's warped standards of beauty, and partly a story of doomed love. We can understand Helen's attraction to Tom, and his to her, but it is more difficult to see how Tom, who is a weak person barely able to finish a sentence, will summon the courage to allow Helen to enter into his world of shallow, upwardly-mobile office mates.

Tom's ex girl-friend Jeannie (Alexandra Creighton) is hurt that Tom has apparently broken things off with her without bothering to tell her, but she is absolutely aghast to discover that Tom's new flame is overweight. "Fat pig" is only one of the many vicious slurs she uses to describe this woman, of whom she has only seen one small photograph; weasel-like, conniving co-worker Carter (Peter Ruocco) is far more explicit in his condemnation not only of a woman he doesn't know but of Tom's future with the company if he continues in his pursuit of this obviously unacceptable partner.

The key scene at the company beach picnic drives the message home. We are forced to investigate our own senses of right and wrong. As author Neil LaBute has said, referring to his own dieting challenges: "This remains one of the last prejudices that is largely accepted. People always feel it's fair game to ridicule fat people, because they feel if you really wanted to, you could stop eating so much."

Liliane Klein and Jud Williford are each terrific, Helen outwardly comfortable with her physical sense but inwardly frightened of rejection, and Tom, whose office life is populated by 'friends' who seem happy to make all of his decisions for him. He stands up for himself only twice in the entire play, and both times it is to say no.

We would have liked to have a little more examination into Tom's character -- that he would be self-conscious about Helen is too easily accepted. If this is so, why was he attracted to her in the first place? Why can't he stand up for himself? If "societal pressures" is the only answer offered, we haven't had a chance to grow any more than Tom has.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Fat Pig" Three Stars. Director Barbara Damashek moves the show forward with little wasted space; the discussions are often discomfiting but always heart felt. Klein, Williford, Creighton and Ruocco work well together, and in the end it is shallow Carter who spells things out best for Tom: "you're only young once. Don't take a complete dump on your one moment in the sun."

And there you have it.


"Fat Pig"
Aurora Theater
2081 Addison Street, Berkeley
Extended through December 6

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