Neil LaBute finds there’s more to love and hate with full-figured characters

From: The Village Voice, 12/22/2004
by: Ed Park

Armed with a clean-lined set, an efficient quartet of actors, and seven tightly coiled scenes, Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig takes cool aim at the elephant in the room: our incoherent hostility toward the obese. In the tricky meet-cute, nice yuppie Tom (Jeremy Piven) utters “pretty big” to himself at a lunchtime grazing spot, commenting on its cavernous size. His stray words attract Helen (Ashlie Atkinson), the sweet-faced, plus-size librarian, whom we’ve just uncomfortably observed onstage, pre-showtime, noshing on pizza. (It’s in the nature of Fat Pig that even my own language should be dismantled: Is “sweet-faced” there just to offset “plus-size”?) Their banter, by turns awkward and ardent, blooms into the love that dare not speak its name, at least not to one’s co-workers.

Tom’s perfectly opaque job, with its expense reports and “subsidiary suppliers” from Chicago, suggests a sterile, almost dystopian zone, in contrast to the comfortable cocoon he inhabits with Helen. Atkinson conveys her natural warmth, her use of self-deprecating humor as both allure and defense (“Big people are jolly, remember?”); Piven effortlessly registers not only Tom’s core decency and charm, but his deep ambivalence at going public. Some girls are bigger than others, as the Smiths taught us ( Fat Pig has Morrissey’s “You’re the One for Me, Fatty” as an epigraph), but Tom knows that his wiry colleagues will have a field day once they see Helen’s waistline. The instinctively meddling Carter (Andrew McCarthy) spies on Tom at a “dinner thing” with Helen, and goes apoplectic with glee-and fear-upon learning she’s his squeeze. Carter’s shoehorned motivation (Mom was fat) is dramatically pragmatic, but McCarthy gives it all sorts of messy jolts. Jeannie (Keri Russell), Tom’s pencil-skirted ex in accounting, is even more merciless in her humiliation than Carter. A narcissist on a hair trigger, she thinks Tom’s chubby chasing is an attack on her. Significantly, her attacks exhaust vocabulary-beginning with a violent keelhauling and climaxing in a freak-out that’s at once the funniest and scariest moment in a play of constant articulation.