People are empty, shallow terrified animals and, apparently, I’m not the only person who thinks so.
Playwright Neil LaBute is a fascinating artist. He writes and directs movies as diverse as the delightful black comedy “Nurse Betty” to the Nic Cage’s “Wicker Man.” He’s sort of the Mormon Mamet, having a style of quipy dialogue that approaches themes of masculine power dynamics and social realities.
What I love and appreciate about “Fat Pig” is its complete willingness to discuss the flaws and shortcomings of people in such a stark manner. But these are not unsympathetic monsters either. At the same time, the play does not excuse them or even suggest answers to these matter-of-fact human weaknesses.
The cast is refreshingly small with only four characters tightly telling what could have been a much larger narrative. The compact nature of the story allows for amble exploration for such a few number of integral characters.
Tom, our nervous white-collar everyman protagonist, is performed by Scott Bryan. Bryan plays with Tom’s public and private confidence to a degree of gratifying subtlety. Jen Stephenson plays the titular “Fat Pig,” Helen. Helen is quick and clever and Stephenson expresses her with remarkable honesty and warmth.
Jason Witter knocks it out of the park with his performance of Carter, Tom’s dick friend. Carter is in many ways like Helen: funny, fast, confident and brutally honest, but as Helen is open and kind, Carter is dark and cruel. Kate Costello rounds out the tiny cast as Jeannie, Tom’s on-again-off-again office romance. Jeannie represented the most complex character in the show for me, sorting through difficult insecurities and the inherit problems with “dating,” and Costello plays her expertly with alertness and power.
A major theme is the multidirectional social pressure the main character feels due to the stigma of being occasioned with one of the most damning forms of exile in our culture: “fat” people. We never see this, however. Beyond the base couple, we get Carter, who exists as a representative of the naked aggression and Jeannie, who has an extra layer of insecurity and confusion due to being rejected for someone who is commonly viewed as so socially base.
Certainly, the other major theme of secreted isolation by social shame is well executed, with the events and characters being so separate from each other. There are small things that stick out, like the set being mostly big, drab and empty. The plot devices are of a physical photo seeming somewhat dated in our techno age of ubiquitous smart phones and social media.
I’m happy to say the only real flaws with the production are the god-awful musical choices. Trite pop songs transition the scenes, often times jamming obvious themes or ideas to an otherwise powerful scene. The tragically realistic ending is vapidly punctuated by the whiny singing of the words “I’m giving up on you.” I don’t know what 13 year-old girl’s iPod they stole to score the play, but they should probably just give it back.
The Vortex’s production of “Fat Pig” is the best to be seen on its stage in ages. It’ll make you laugh, feel bad, and, hopefully, make you think a bit about why you’re doing.
by Neil LaBute
Directed by Debi Kierst
The Vortex Theatre 2004 1/2 Central Ave., SE
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. Sundays at 2 p.m.
Runs through May 11