Neil LaBute’s “Fat Pig,” the story of a thin man, the overweight woman he falls for and the cruel friends who sabotage the relationship, is populated with characters whose actions are so over-the-top it can be hard to identify with them. And though the Weekend Theatre’s production starts off promisingly, particularly with the actress who plays the overweight Helen, its cast ultimately struggles to bring the characters to life.
Tom, an average-sized man, is attracted to Helen because she is real and sincere. But the people who work with Tom are shallow, soap-opera exaggerations of presumably real personality types who call Helen a “pig” and a “fat bitch.”
Tom’s co-workers are the true fat pigs of the play, meant to represent the collective “we” — but, on the contrary, they only represent a distinct segment of the population. Few of us can imagine sending out a photo of our co-worker’s overweight girlfriend in a mass e-mail to the company, as one character, Carter, does. Carter, I presume, is meant to depict a guy’s guy — ogling the photos in Maxim magazine, loafing at work, able to talk about nothing more than hot chicks and basketball. Then there’s Jeannie, a frenzied 28-year-old whose melodramatic attacks on Tom after their relationship ends are so out of hand they become comic.
Their comments about Helen torture Tom — but because the opinions of these superficial people deserve no respect, his turmoil ultimately seems absurd.
The Weekend Theatre’s production seemed quite promising at the opening scene. Helen and Tom happen upon one another at a crowded eatery during lunch hour. Melissa Neal as Helen was pitch-perfect in her performance, playing up Helen’s sharp, witty personality. Neal was the only actor who consistently filled her role as if she was comfortable in it, able to navigate the territory of Helen with ease. Justin Pike, playing Tom, reached his pinnacle at the production’s start. In this first scene, both actors had believable chemistry bubbling between them.
Yet the energy was not sustained. Tom is a skittish, awkward character, but it became difficult at times to distinguish if it was Tom being awkward, or simply the actor playing him. Exaggerated acting mimicked the overblown characters. There was a lot of strained body movements, and excessive, heavy sighing. Only Neal had moments when you no longer saw the actress, but the Helen she was supposed to be.
The Weekend Theatre’s mission of raising social awareness is a noble one, and pulling off such weighty productions with a cast of volunteers who can only rehearse in their spare time must not be an easy one. “Fat Pig” will make you laugh, and for that alone it could be worth a ticket, but it may not pierce much deeper than its humor.