"FAT" WORTH THE WEIGHT

From: The New York Post, 12/16/2004
by: Frank Scheck

PROVOCATIVE title aside, “Fat Pig” is one of Neil La Bute’s subtler efforts.

The acclaimed playwright/filmmaker (“In the Company of Men,” “Bash”) has spent much of his career examining the cold-blooded nature of human relationships, particularly sexual ones, and “Fat Pig” is no exception.

But it also demonstrates a warmth and compassion for its characters missing in many of LaBute’s previous works. The play depicts the burgeoning romance between Tom (Jeremy Piven), an upwardly mobile corporate type, and Helen (Ashlie Atkinson), a plus-sized librarian – or as Tom ironically puts it, “printed word specialist.”

After a chance meeting in a crowded restaurant, Tom is immediately taken with Helen, thanks to her fierce intelligence, wickedly self-deprecating sense of humor, and love of Alistair MacLean war films.

The pair begin a blissful romance, which Tom takes great pains to hide from co-workers Carter (Andrew McCarthy), a smarmy chauvinist, and Jeannie (Keri Russell, of TV’s “Felicity”), a beautiful younger woman with whom he’s been having an on again/off again relationship.

But word eventually leaks out, and Tom finds himself taking a great deal of abuse because of his new girlfriend, whose purloined photo gets posted on the office computers.

In this play, LaBute balances black humor and social commentary in a less schematic fashion than he’s done previously. The relationship between Tom and Helen, beginning with the beautifully written, hilarious opening scene, is depicted with a tenderness that makes the difficulty of their situation all the more poignant.

Carter, a typically vulgar LaBute sexist, emerges as a figure of surprising complexity, and Jeannie, although more stereotypically drawn, also reveals hidden depths.

LaBute’s dissection of how societal pressures affect relationships is astute and up-to-the-minute relevant, though the ending feels abrupt and rather forced.

But overall the play works beautifully, thanks to the pungency of the writing, the fluid direction by Jo Bonney, and the excellent performances by the ensemble, with particularly moving work by Piven and Atkinson as the weight-crossed lovers.