How accepting would today's society be if an attractive, successful guy with no major flaws started dating a plus-sized librarian? Not too forgiving for the most part, I'm sure. And that is pretty sad to say the least. Playwright Neil LaBute's play "Fat Pig" examines that very issue. He, in a very funny but no-holds-barred way, shines a light on the obsession that we have today with superficial beauty and the social pressures that are in place to maintain the hierarchy.
Tom (played by Timothy Diamond) walks into a busy food court and fortune smiles upon him when the very vivacious, pretty and funny Helen (played by Emma Lanza) invites him to share her table. The two banter back and forth right off the bat and sparks fly. At the end of lunch they decide that they would like to see each other again, so they make some tentative plans. It seems like your typical boy meets girl, but then you remember that the boy always messes things up.
Instead of going back to his job in the corporate world and telling his friends that he has met a wonderful girl Tom keeps quiet about Helen. Of course all the secrecy piques his co-workers' interest. What is holding him back is that Helen is a large woman and Tom is worried about what everyone, especially his co-worker/friend Carter (played by Francis J. Martins), will think of her. Or more precisely what they will think of her waistline.
Tom is exactly right to have worried for when his co-workers find out that he is dating a fat woman they either start teasing him (Carter), pressuring him to stop dating "beneath him" (again Carter) or just slap him across the face (ex and co-worker Jeannie played by Rachelle Néron). Carter amps up the pressure by starting to lecture Tom about "sticking with his own kind".
In the mean time Tom and Helen are falling deeper and deeper. Helen is offered a better job, but it means moving out of town and she's not sure she wants to leave. When she asks to meet Tom's friends and he makes excuses, Helen begins to get the picture. He is ashamed of her or more accurately her size.
Tom thinks he can make her happy and keep her away from his friends by bringing her to a work beach BBQ. The plan is working well at first as Tom is isolating himself and Helen from everyone else. Helen figures out what is going on and gives Tom an ultimatum. We in the audience are left holding our collective breaths wondering what his answer will be.
LaBute and the wonderful (and Montreal's own) Through Line Productions offer us two sides to this issue of size and our ideas about it. Helen is a happy person. Single, but happy. She accepts and even likes herself. Tom, who is unfortunately like a much larger portion of society, is a calorie counting sheep who is predominantly interested in beauty of the skin deep variety.
I've always been drawn to plays, comedians or films that can use humour to address serious issues. Society's mistreatment of larger people is horrible and mean spirited. Nothing to be proud of and certainly nothing that should make you laugh. But somehow due to the talent of Neil LaBute it becomes a scream without losing the sharpness of its point amidst all the laughter.
The dark comedy of the play is not everyone's cup of tea (there is plenty of off coloured language and harshness), but I loved it. The writing is so good and funny that I was completely won over. It made me laugh in that way you do when something you see causes awakenings in yourself. LaBute does not pussyfoot around the issue; he gets right in there and mucks around in it. It is laugh after laugh, but many of them are of the uncomfortable variety. This is especially true when Helen is talking about her size and playing on people's preconceived notions about it. There is no glossing over the issue. We are not allowed to go on believing that the problems faced by any woman over a size 6 are over. This is still a skinny woman's world. The world we live in is exposed for its disgusting size-ist self.
Totally character driven, the contemporary play depends on the acting by the small cast. They were all good especially Emma Lanza and Francis J. Martins (played the snake of a friend perfectly). Though at times I felt they were all guilty of "acting" instead of inhabiting their character. You could occasionally feel that they conscious of being on a stage and in front of a crowd. It had the effect of pulling me out of the moment occasionally.
While watching the play it made me question my own choices and beliefs. Was I like Tom? Would I succumb to society's pressures and break up with someone I really liked for superficial reasons? I'm hoping not, but most of us have been programmed by the narrow-mindedness of television, Hollywood, magazines, and movies. I left thinking of the incredible power we have granted to the likes of Hollywood to define for us what beautiful or desirable are. It made me angry and want to change myself and the people around me. So I left hoping I was more Helen than any other character. Mission accomplished.
Photos by Angie Radczenko
-Venue: 264 Ste. Catherine East
-Ticket Purchase: (514) 284-3939 or www.throughline.ca
-Ticket Prices: Adults: $17.00
Saturday, September 11th Matinee or Tuesday, September 14th: 2-for-1
-Show Times: Tuesday-Saturday: 8:00 p.m.
Matinees (Saturday): 2:00 p.m.