Friday, February 18, 2011

Aurora's 'Fat Pig' looks more like a silk purse

Posted By on Fri, Feb 18, 2011 at 11:02 AM

DINNER FOR TWO: Jenna Tamisiea and Jacob York
The Stranger’s Lindy West has gone viral with her angry affirmation “Hello, I Am Fat,” in which she slams American society for its shaming treatment of overweight people. West asserts that living up to somebody else’s body image ideal is a pointless, destructive exercise. Neil LaBute’s painful romance Fat Pig explores the debilitating consequences of those very issues at Aurora Theatre’s Georgia Gwinnett College Lab Series.

The chemistry and charm of Fat Pig’s first scene plays against LaBute’s trademark misanthropy. White collar drudge Tom (Jacob York) and librarian Helen (Jenna Tamisiea) meet cute at a crowded food court and hit it off right away. Tamisiea gives Helen an ingratiating sexiness as the couple’s idle chat gives way to frank flirtation.

The problem is that Helen might euphemistically be called “a person of size,” and Tom goes to great lengths to avoid “outing” their relationship among his friends and co-workers. Given the jerkiness of the play’s other characters, you can understand his reluctance. Tom’s colleague Carter (Jimi Kochina) is an aggressive boor who ruthlessly ranks women based on their weight (and represents another version of LaBute’s swaggering would-be alpha male, a la Aaron Eckhart’s role in In the Company of Men). Tom also negotiates an awkward on-again/off-again relationship with a mercurial accountant, Jeannie (Maurean Yasko). It's probably not a coincidence that Kochina and Yasko are both rail-thin actors.

There’s probably no good way to say this, but given how the characters describe Helen’s appearance (including the role’s own self-deprecating jokes), I suspect someone reading the script would imagine a bigger woman than the Rubesesque Tamisiea. One can’t underestimate the cruelty and self-consciousness that accompany weight-related bigotry, and no one deserves the nasty treatment that Fat Pig builds to. Still, the Aurora production’s characters seem even more shallow than if Helen were played by someone with the proportions of, say, Camryn Manheim. Likewise, Carter describes Tom as being out of Helen's league, but York's looks seem pleasantly average, so they come across as an adorable, perfectly natural couple.

Ultimately Helen's not the one with the problem in Fat Pig — everyone else is. As their relationship progresses, Tom seems both crazy about her yet ashamed to be with her. Directed by Andy Houchins, Fat Pig conveys how disagreements in real relationships don’t necessarily involve yelling and breaking things, but can be soft-spoken and painfully drawn out. The audience develops an emotional stake in whether Tom can rise above his concern for the opinions of others.

Fat Pig belongs to LaBute’s trilogy of plays about the obsession with physical appearances, along with The Shape of Things and reasons to be pretty. Coincidentally, York played a highly similar “regular guy” character in the latter play for Pinch ‘n’ Ouch Theater. While he has a sardonic delivery worthy of Matthew Perry, a change of pace role would be nice for his next role. The trilogy's development reveals some of LaBute's maturity as a playwright, since The Shape of Things involved an unconvincing, virtually sociopathic female character, while the other two feel much closer to everyday life. And in the real world, unfortunately, bigotry against fat people can still approach LaBute-style emotional brutality.

Fat Pig. Through Feb. 27. Aurora Theatre, 128 E. Pike St., Lawrenceville. Thu.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m. $16-$30. 770-476-7926. www.auroratheatre.com

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