Sunday, January 21, 2007

Fat Pig (The Bang and The Clatter)

A MUST SEE! ‘FAT PIG’--thought provoking, well performed at BANG AND CLATTER

The Bang and The Clatter is dedicated to producing “innovative, challenging works, of exceptional quality and imagination with a particular emphasis on modern American plays.” They intend not only to entertain, but “to push the envelope, and lick it.” They accomplish those objectives in ‘FAT PIG,’ which is getting its local premiere at B&C.

Neil LaBute, the play’s author, is noted for his ability to expose the underbelly of human behavior. He often focuses on the casual cruelty that one person can inflict on another, either intentionally or unintentionally. His recent feature film, ‘IN THE COMPANY OF MEN,’ showcases two male co-workers who relieve their boredom by deciding to both court a deaf woman, build up her self-esteem, and then simultaneously dump her.

‘FAT PIG’ highlights the pettiness and meanness of people who deride others because of their physical appearance. It showcases the effect of peer pressure to conform to arbitrary evaluation of others. To make matters even more pointed, LaBute writes in such a way that we laugh through our tears. He makes the viewer feel guilty about laughing, even psychologically restricting the audience from applauding at the end of brilliantly written and conceived scenes.

The script centers on a romance between an attractive guy (Tom) with an upscale career and an amply endowed Rubenesque woman (Helen).

Tom and Helen have their first encounter at a self-service restaurant. She is eating three slices of pizza and dessert while he pecks away at a salad. They talk, she is charming and full of self-put downs over her weight. He, after a series of bad relationships, including one with a co-worker, is charmed with her unaffected realism. They begin to date. He hides the fact from his co-workers. Eventually, the need to face reality hits and leads to an emotionally drenched ending.

The Bang and The Clatter production, though a little slowly paced, is enveloping. Director Sean McConaha has finely honed the skills of his actors. He highlights the emotional highs and lows, effectively keys the pauses, glances and awkward moments. He is aided by a cast which ranges from brilliant to effective.

Jenna Messina, as the full-bodied Helen, takes on a very difficult role. The actress who plays the role must not only physically fit the part, but have a personal attitude that allows the audience to truly believe that in real life she is proud of who she is, yet vulnerable to the attacks of others. Messina plays the role with total believability. This is a tour-de-force performance!

Sean Derry is not as physically attractive as might be expected for the actor playing Tom . He doesn’t have the Brad Pitt looks that make women weak-kneed, but he is such a fine actor that he makes us believe the illusion is true. He is brilliant in the final scene as he glances toward where his friends are congregated, probably making fun of the hefty Helen, while carrying on a conversation with the woman he supposedly loves.

Tony Waver shines as Tom’s caustic co-worker who exemplifies all the shallowness of our advertising-driven culture which stresses superficiality and appearance over substance. Alana Romansky is convincing as Jeannie, a co-worker who yearns for a permanent relationship with Tom, but, at times her character slips and we get words rather than meanings.

The production is aided by a well-conceived scenic design by Sean Derry. Sean McConaha’s selection of musical interludes helped bridge the often overly long between-scenes pauses.

In other productions of the play, the titles for each of the seven scenes are projected on a screen. The device reinforces the theme of each segment. It is an effective device which could have helped the B&G’s excellent production to be even more pointed.

Capsule judgment: Several years go, while visiting in Washington, DC, I saw a production of ‘FAT PIG.’ The show was outstanding and went on to win several Helen Hayes’ Citations, DC’s equivalent of the Tony Awards. The Bang and The Clatter production is every bit as effective as the presentation in the nation’s capital. THIS IS A MUST SEE THEATRICAL EXPERIENCE!!!!!