“People are capable of most things you think,” pines the rotund Helen (Deidra Edwards) at the outset of Neil LaBute’s “Fat Pig” now mounted at the Hudson Theatre.
If you are unacquainted with the works of Mr. LaBute, then take heed.When he sets a character spiraling into a nosedive there are never any miracles lurking in the wings to save the day, no sudden discovery of a parachute at the last minute for them to strap on, there is nothing but the hard earth racing at them.
To judge from Mr. LaBute’s body of work, one can imagine him as a child attending a performance of Peter Pan and clapping his hands bloodied to bring “Tink” back to life.Only to see her gang raped and left spread eagle on Marooner’s Rock by Nibs, Tootles and the rest of the Lost Boys Gang. The bulk of Mr. LaBute’s work, “The Shape of Things”, “In the Company of Men”, and “Your Friends and Neighbors”, tends to view the world through syphilitic colored glasses; “Fat Pig” follows suit.
Helen is fat.Tom (Jonathan Bray) is trim and fit, one of those self-involved kinda guys, who’ll likely end up dying in their own arms.She is a librarian; he’s already entered into a timeshare arrangement with Satan in exchange for corporate success.A chance encounter in a crowded diner “blooms” into a knotty romance for our star-crossed lovers.
The immediate problem faced by Tom is how to protect his new love interest from discovery by his co-workers Carter (Nick Stabile) a smirking, GQ Alpha Male who’s recently fired his therapist for being a “total bitch”; and Jeannie (Kirsten Kollender) a sharp tongued catalogue of neuroses with such low self-esteem that a snail couldn’t pass under it without ducking, who views Tom as potential husband material.
“We’re clingy,” observes Carter.“It’s what makes us different from the animals.”
In a compact and concise storyline we are presented ample reason to justify, and appreciate, the attraction between the two lovers, while simultaneously being treated to a refreshing plunge into the abyss of our own shortcomings. (The secret surprise Mr. LaBute buries in the “popcorn and cracker jack” of his modern morality plays).
The production at the Hudson is an example of the mingling of craft, intelligence, skills and talents typical of L.A. theatre at its best, which makes this city the Eldorado, media Mecca that marks the high water point for theatre in this country.
Alexis Jacknow has put such sheen on this razor sharp show, that we are blinded by the shine even as its edge is danced across our own throats. She and the cast mine the humor of the piece down to the mother ore which runs through all of Mr. LaBute’s best works keeping the harsh truths he doles out from proving too toxic.
Bray and Edwards skillfully articulate those factors which both fuses their characters together while providing the fuse that burns down to the inevitable “boom!” Edward’s pain is phrased with a passionate, and perhaps personal, pungency; while Bray conveys eloquently one of Mr. LaBute’s favorite motifs, that in our failures with others we see reflected how we have failed ourselves.
Kollender gives her character that unpleasant edge which would have hemophiliacs standing back from her in elevators, but wisely keeps her portrayal from plunging into caricature by never allowing the embers of sympathy to go dark in her performance.
In his tales Mr. LaBute takes relish in hiding the most pronounced vestiges of humanity in the most unlikely of places, as if daring, if not taunting, his audiences to find them. In “Fat Pig” the “X marks the spot” leads to Carter.
“We are all one step away,” he ruefully reflects, “from what we despise.”
Selecting Carter, whose shallowness could suck his shadow off the pavement at noon on an August day, to deliver the play’s most insightful commentary is not a glaring contradiction, but rather an astute observation on the perplexing perversity of life.
Stabile juggles so adroitly the many balls the playwright tosses him that with a weaker cast, and with a lesser director, he could have walked away with the show and then called them collect from Las Vegas before the house manager was finished telling the audience to turn off their cell phones.
“Fat Pig” is a gem of a show.But beware, beneath that sparkle that is certain to beguile you lurks a sharpness that will definitely slice you.
Hudson Mainstage Theater
6539 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Performances: April 26 – June 1
Fridays at 8 p.m: May 16, 23, 30
Saturdays at 8 p.m: May 17, 24. 31
Sundays at 7 p.m: May 18, 25; June 1
General Admission: $30