General 6-18-2007

Charm, If You Can Call It That: Amy Rummenie on “Fat Pig”

Jaime Kleiman spoke with Amy Rummenie, director of Walking Shadow Theatre Company’s "Fat Pig", about work and life, and theater as an ethical act.


Why start a new theater company?

Amy Rummenie: John Heimbuch and I had been working with the Fringe Festival in its early days as box officers and Dean [Seal] said he wanted to see what kind of show we’d bring to the Fringe, and he repeated the request every time we saw him. So we did Edward Gorey’s Helpless Doorknobs under the name Dramatis Personae in the 2001 Fringe. It was the first show we wrote, directed, and produced on our own out of college. He encouraged us to do another show, and we had the idea to write The Lives of the Most Notorious Highwaymen [for the 2004 Fringe], where we joined with David Pisa, and Walking Shadow came into being.

I think we started a company of our own because we didn’t know how to approach and convince others to do the kind of work we wanted to see. It seemed easier, as ridiculous as that sounds, to just get out and do it ourselves.

How has running a company with your husband, John Heimbuch, affected your relationship?
I’m sure it was John’s idea to start the company; he’d dreamed of creating a company for ages. I’m more reticent to make grand artistic plans like that.

As for the marriage, it’s a constant game of balancing life and work. We don’t have an office [or keep] real office hours. Because we often work from home, it’s [difficult] to set the boundaries of work, play, and necessity without guilt. In a career where even going out to a show is still work-related, clearing the mental space to truly not be working is difficult. Sometimes we have to gently remind each other that it’s time to shut the laptop and just eat dinner.

Fat Pig will be the first show that I’ve been paid to direct. This is also the first time I’ve had to leave work at the Children’s Theatre Company to direct. Now that we work full seasons, we have to find time around [our jobs] that pay the bills. In this case, Fat Pig overlaps with CTC and I’ve opted to step away to direct instead. It’s a financial hit but [John] understands.

Neil LaBute’s writing has been called misogynistic, misanthropic, and cruel, and one journalist even called his work “vessels of distilled hate.” (All judgments I tend to agree with.) So why direct Fat Pig?

The thing that most attracted me to the script was how bothered I was by it the first time I read it. My immediate reaction was that I couldn’t stand behind it, but when a week passed and it was still foremost in my thoughts, I realized its power. I find it very funny in a blunt and personal way. You find yourself not wanting to laugh [because you think] it might make you look like a cruel or insensitive person. I think that’s the [play’s] charm, if you can call it that. The characters are distilled versions of the kind of people we are: we all have to relate to the world as we see it, and more importantly, how we want to be perceived.

Fat Pig strikes a chord because the characters are genuinely likable. You want to see love found in an unpredictable situation, and even the most vitriolic character in the show behaves understandably because you can see the hurt and insecurity that drives them. LaBute’s work gives us something to react to, where we can see our own flaws, our own deficiencies. To me, that’s where the interesting parts are.

I have to admit, I’m not very fond of much of [LaBute’s] previous work because I think the characters are too spiteful, too harsh, and verge on caricature. I find In the Company of Men; The Shape of Things; The Mercy Seat—bothersome and unpleasant, but I don’t go to theater to find my moral compass.