27 June 2016

Fat Pig, by Neil Labute

I’ve seen two productions of Neil Labute’s The Shape of Things, but this was the first time I had seen Fat Pig (or any other Labute play) produced. Labute seems to be a playwright of odd, dysfunctional relationships and the difficulty of finding genuine connections with people in a society that values people for their physical appearance.

Fat Pig follows the relationship between Tom, a somewhat playboyish office worker, and Helen, an outgoing—but overweight—librarian. The majority of the plot focuses on Tom’s attempts to first hide his relationship and then deal with criticism from his shallow, misogynistic co-worker/best friend Carter, and his thrown over semi-girlfriend Jeannie.

In other words, Fat Pig is Tom’s play. This is one of my major critiques of the plot (as opposed to the MT Pockets production, which I’ll discuss in just a bit). The play principally presents Tom’s struggle—and I use that word advisedly, since he’s a bit of a wet noodle—to come to terms with his friends’ opinion of his relationship. Helen, who seems to be an interesting and delightful person, is reduced to a device through which Labute gets to explore Tom’s experience. One issue here is that the relationship between Tom and Helen is barely developed, with just a few scenes of them together, and a heavy reliance of exposition where Tom talks about how much he cares for Helen. But we never see it on stage. So the relationship feels hollow, and Helen functions as a prop to support Tom’s conflict.

My other big problem with the plot is that the show simply ends. At this production, the only reason anyone in the audience knew the play was over was because someone backstage began clapping. It really seems like Labute just gave up, and without wrapping up the storyline or finding a natural ending point just sent went with part of a script.

In terms of the MT Pockets production, most of the acting was pretty good, which is impressive considering the script wasn’t that strong. Probably the strongest performance was from John Johnson II (Carter). Johnson really brought the character to live as the sleazy, overly-confident, overgrown frat boy kind of co-worker. He embraced the role with enthusiasm and it showed in his physical presence on the stage and his vocal delivery.

Mara Monaghan (Helen) and Tracy Lynch (Jeannie) also gave good performances, but I think their performances suffered because Rion Hammond didn’t seem confident in the role of Tom. Most of Helen’s and Jeannie’s scenes involve them interacting closely with Tom, and Hammond simply had better chemistry with Johnson than he had with either Monaghan or Lynch. As a result, some of those scenes looked stagy—particularly the first scene, where the dialogue between Hammond and Monaghan didn’t flow smoothly. It was also hard to buy Carter’s assertion that Tom was this lady’s man who had dated a bunch of girls and was on his way up in the business world. Hammond’s performance just didn’t sell that confidence.

This was also MT Pockets’ first production in their new theatre space. For my money, it was a bad move. On the plus side, the new space has a lot more room and a bigger stage area. However, being further from downtown and with a pretty bad parking lot, there are some practical downsides to the new Parsons Road location. But in terms of the show itself, the biggest problem with the new location is that the company seems now to be depending on uni-directional lighting, with all of the lighting coming from behind the crowd. Rather than having cans above and to the sides of the stage, all of the light comes over the audience, and then lights everything on stage only from the front. This is an extremely limited and limiting lighting set up, which doesn’t allow for as dynamic presentation as their old space.