Fat Pig, by contemporary American playwright Neil LaBute, is ostensibly a love story about a rather emotionally immature young professional, Tom, and an articulate but vulnerable, overweight young woman, Helen. Each is searching for more than they have previously found in relationships and, when they meet, some chemistry is evident.
Helen is bigger than Tom and her weight becomes the driving conflict of the story. For her part, Helen makes her size an overt part of their romance, through constant self-deprecating humour. In this, she reveals vulnerability and invites connection. Tom takes the bait, but as the relationship continues, the stakes get higher. This would be enough for a tidy little drama about love and character. But relationships are not straight forward in Neil LaBute’s oeuvre. (The last one I saw, his retelling of Oedipus, cast Ed Harris, in a one-man show, set in a mortuary – one man, one casket – smooth-talking the audience through his passionate love for his recently departed wife and mother).
At the office, we see Tom, cast well and performed capably by Timothy Diamond, pal around with his buddy Carter (Francis J. Martins). Carter’s banter is juvenile and relentless, but his control of Tom is deep and dark, belying an undercurrent of bullying and passivity. The further Carter goes into the crass and profane, the nasty and hurtful – at Tom’s and Helen’s expense – the weaker Tom looks through his lack of response.
This ugliness is put in sharp contrast to the budding romance, which displays tender affections and Helen’s articulation of feelings for and appreciation of Tom. Another foil for understanding character is the office romance Tom has, or has not, ended with Jeannie, played by Rachelle Néron. Whatever their past, Jeannie asks Tom for some clarity about their future. Yet Tom seems only to try to craft the answer that will be most ambiguous.
The question in Fat Pig is who is this man and what is the nature of his character. And thus begins a difficult journey. Tom talks to Helen with tender respect when they are alone and professes to like her the way she is, yet Tom hides Helen from his friends and colleagues.
Directed by Joe Garque, Fat Pig seems somewhat awkwardly balanced between Tom’s office life and romantic quest. The dynamism of the office relationships – Martins is both hilarious and disturbing in his villainy as the friend, and Néron bursting in anger as an insulted lover but more convincing in sincere moments – eclipse at times the love story. Emma Lanza plays Helen with heart, but lacks emotional punch. Thus, the unwinding of the office tale feels more important than it might, though this may be an accident of casting, direction and performance rather than core story.
Reminiscent in some ways of LaBute’s feature film Your Friends and Neighbours, Fat Pig raises questions about human failings and the hurt they cause. LaBute writes tightly crafted dialogue exposing raw feelings and brutal wounds. The density makes for challenging material to present and despite obvious effort, the delivery here is uneven. Still the high points are powerful. The show succeeds in delivering a memorable and entertaining examination of emotional hollows, and is a welcome opportunity to witness LaBute’s unique voice in contemporary theatre.
Fat Pig runs through the 18th of September at Théâtre Ste. Catherine. Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday Matinees at 2:00 p.m. Tuesday Sept 14 is 2 for 1 night.