You Eat Your Salad Because It’s Good for You: Fat Pig at Playwrights Center

Jaime Kleiman reviews Neil LaBute's controversial, tough, and funny play about a weight-challenged relationship. How do you write a romantic play premised on a world without romance?

from fat pig

FAT PIG. How’s that for a catchy title? Perhaps playwright Neil LaBute chose it because he wanted to get people’s attention. Well, he did, and it does, and by association, Walking Shadow Theatre Company gets attention, too.

Walking Shadow’s production is solid and moves along at a leisurely, sitcom-like pace. The play is set alternately in a busy cafeteria for harried nine-to-fivers, a swanky restaurant, a sterile hamster cage that passes for an office (with one of those suction-cup basketball hoops stuck to a metal drawer), a comfy bedroom, and a secluded beach alcove with big umbrellas that dwarf the actors and leave no room for compassion. Director Amy Rummenie would benefit from tightening up those scene changes, but when the lights finally come up again, the wait is worth it. Jim Smart’s set captures the tone of each scene without overwhelming the action.

The four actors form a tight ensemble and, though most of the characters in Fat Pig are brutal to one another, they seem to be having fun. Shad Cooper and Celia Forrest star as Tom, the successful office drone (he believes in TEAMWORK!), and Helen, the eponymous pig of the story. Jennifer Phillips plays Jeanie, Tom’s on-again / off-again girlfriend; she’s a neurotic mess of a woman who bitterly laughs it up when she’s dumped for a “fat sow.” Ben Thietje as Tom’s wisecracking friend, Carter, tosses off some of the most malicious bile ever written with a pleased smirk on his face. Carter talks like Randall, the sarcastic video store clerk in the first Clerks film, but Clerks director Kevin Smith is as cuddly as a kitten compared with LaBute. Randall calls people cunts to pass the time; Carter really means it.

Forrest and Cooper have palpable chemistry together. Forrest possesses all of Helen’s essential qualities: she’s intelligent, beautiful, loving, and has a lovely sense of humor. Cooper, a slick actor whose natural inclinations feed his character here, does a great job of two-timing himself. His maudlin self-hatred hangs like a noose around his thin shoulders and visibly destroys him by the end of the play. When he breaks up with Helen, you truly feel Cooper’s pain because we inevitably see some of Tom’s pitiable, vain, narcissist tendencies in ourselves. In a LaBute play, that’s all there is to being human. You eat your salad because it’s good for you, not because it’s what you really want. Otherwise, he suggests, you’re just going to be eaten alive.

Fat Pig runs through June 30 at the Playwrights’ Center. Tickets: 612-375-0300 or visit