The Other White Meat

Neil Labute’s Fat Pig is weak on comedy

theatre review by Tobias Atkin

I couldn’t help but laugh when, as the curtain fell on the set of Through Line Production’s new show, Fat Pig, a spindly man in a long overcoat said, “That was such a heavy ending, man.” Fat Pig does end on a sad and melodramatic note, but I didn’t think the man realized his pun. The love interest in the show—the fat pig in question—is a spunky librarian named Helen (Emma Lanza), whose initial distinguishing characteristic is her corpulence. When Tom (Timothy Diamond)—a conventional man with a job at a firm—becomes infatuated with Helen, Tom is forced to address society’s conception of the overweight. What is examined on-stage is the dehumanization of Helen and the reality of living under the shadow of malicious gossip. When Tom falls for Helen, his public life begins to conflict with his private passion. As much as he adores Helen, he is ashamed of her. This divisive reality is the crux of the play and its strongest point.

The playwright, Neil Labute, is commendable for writing a play that so deftly defies a tidy label. It is a modern tragicomedy, a melodrama, a farcical love story. It is not, at any rate, “high art,” as David Amsden from New York magazine described it. The script suffers for its self-indulgence, and this becomes especially apparent in Through Line’s production. Scenes are often ruined by Labute’s clichéd lexicon, especially when the dialogue is meant to be poignant. As Tom and Helen lie in bed together, they reiterate a spew of corny sentiments: “I adore you,” “it feels so good, lying here.” Altogether, the audience learns nothing of the characters’ context beyond simplistic elements. In fact, the only significant attention paid to a character’s past is when Tom’s best friend goes on a remorseful diatribe about his obese mother.

Most of the jokes derive from Helen’s weight. Her self-deprecating humour is a predictable defense to society’s opinion of her, but it can be hilarious. During the couple’s initial encounter in a cafeteria, Helen says that she’s like “Helen of Troy, except they need a thousand ships to carry me.” It is an interesting question whether Labute is underlining his themes of society’s limited and prejudicial views of the obese, or if he’s exploiting Helen’s fatness in the pursuit of cheap comedy. Unfortunately, this potentially rich drama is too flabby to provide enduring sustenance.

Play runs Sept. 8 to 18

Theatre Ste. Catherine, 264 St. Catherine E. near Berri-UQAM Metro

Tickets: $17 regular, $15 students/seniors

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