Fat pig. What a nasty way to describe someone. Leave it to Tony-nominated Neil LaBute to work it into his body of mean-spirited, largely misogynist work. Dallas Theater Center’s Kevin Moriarty spikes up the spite in his fast-paced realization of Fat Pig, the second entry of Dallas Theater Center’s LaBute trilogy, known as The Beauty Plays, running through May 9 in the Studio Theatre in the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre at the AT&T Performing Arts Center.
There’s little room for nuanced performance in LaBute’s lightweight treatment of a heavy subject –how our society hates fat people and the lengths to which people will go to ostracize them. The Shape of Things, DTC’s promising first entry in its trilogy, presented four complex, intriguing characters, relating best through flawed neuroses. What a disappointment to find cardboard characters in Fat Pig, interacting with the depth of Saturday morning cartoons, with the exception of the play’s lead character Tom, who struggles with his culturally-driven fat prejudice and ultimately succumbs to peer pressure and his own insecurities.
Tom, played by Regan Adair, with as much dignity, scope and dimension as he can dredge up from an otherwise shallow script, meets and woos a jolly, obese librarian, played bravely by plus-sized Christina Vela. She doesn’t have to do a lot, mostly fawn over Tom and eat, wear increasingly revealing costumes. The cuddling couple is fine as long as they remain alone; public knowledge of their romance throws it into disarray. Aleisha Force and Steven Walters play Tom’s disrespectful, nosy office mates, both graced with way too much free time on their hands. They browbeat and bully the weaker Tom into revealing a photo of his more than buxom babe, post it on office internet and launch a campaign to reclaim him for thin society, save him from that “fat pig”. With a transparent plot from the get-go, LaBute lets loose his venomous polemical vitriol.
Adair is a lovely casting as the insecure Tom. Handsome to a fault, trim, dapper, elegant—he’s the very picture of an eligible bachelor in the GQ/ TV reality show mode. Disconcerting that director Moriarty has chosen to have Adair moderate the play’s scene changes as well as play the main role. Snap: house lights up, Adair the host talks directly to the audience. Snap: stage lights up, he’s back in a scene as Tom. It’s unclear how this transition aids the production; what it does do is clutter the performance of the one multi-level character in the show. Adair is a true professional and handles the frequent switcheroo with efficient charm and smooth aplomb, even as it’s sometimes hard to follow when the actor leaves off and his character picks up. Partly due to seating? The private romance scenes between Tom and obese Helen sounded fine, although I could barely glimpse them locked in embrace downstage on the floor or upstage on a sofa. Seating in the Studio Theater is as tight as it comes. None of us crammed like sardines on the top back row of the space could see all the play’s action due to obstructed view (patrons seated below) and downstage floor blocking, without leaning way out in front of whoever sat next to us. It’s a very uncomfortable way to try to properly review a play.
Force and Walters are talented actors with serious chops, both wasted here, exercising the script’s limited range. The characters they play buzz along on limiting obnoxious notes like bees disturbed around their hive. Force rages and rages and rages, puffing up shriller with each appearance. Walters’ utterly unsympathetic character serves to annoy and belittle Tom, drive him to the despicable act of finally rejecting the unsuspecting Helen. Supposedly he and Tom are long-time friends; too bad it’s never shown why.
The set, effectively designed by Donna Marquet, is all minimalist sharp edge, glass and mirrors, brightly lit. It feels like Tom’s office could exist in any looming concrete downtown Dallas edifice. I hope the production team found a way to fix the external door to Tom’s office, which kept falling open at inopportune times. Ambient sound filtered through on occasion throughout the performance; I’m not sure if it was part of the production or bleeding in from another space in the building? Fat Pig offers curious commentary, in a sad, snide, voyeuristic way, on one of our culture’s dominant fixations.
All performances of The Beauty Plays, including Fat Pig, take place in the Studio Theatre located in the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre at the AT&T Performing Arts Center, 2400 Flora St.. For tickets, call the box office at 214.880.0202 or visit http://www.dallastheatercenter.org.