Friday, August 7, 2009

Fat! Fat! Fat! Fat!

Fat! Fat! Fat! Fat! I am the personal.
Your world is you. I am my world.

--Wallace Stevens, Bantams in Pine Woods

As Percy Sledge reminds us, "When a man loves a woman, he can't keep his mind on nothing else." Well, according to Neil LaBute, that ain't exactly true. If the woman is too much woman.

We learn this lesson in Fat Pig, the Banyan Theater's final summer offering for 2009.

The plot: boy meets fat girl.

Specifically, Tom (Sam Osheroff) meets and falls in love with Helen (Margot Moreland), who happens to be sparkling, witty and a fan of old war movies. She also happens to be plus-sized, hefty, Rubenesque, insert fat-euphemism here.

Tom's friends at the office find out and don't dig the fat chick. Evil fratboy Carter (Dane Dandridge Clark) steals her picture and email blasts it to the rest of the office. His ex-girlfriend, thin chick Jeannie (Bethany Weise), is one of those hell-hath-no-fury-as-a-woman-scorned types. The fact that her replacement is a big lady just makes her fury all the more furious. Tom can't handle the social pressure. In a universe of two, he'd stay with Helen forever. In a universe full of people who don't dig fat chicks, Tom dumps her. True love does not conquer all. Get the message? Curtain.

I half expected the lobby to be filled with glossy brochures for stomach-stapling treatments.

But let's rewind to the performance itself. No complaints here.

The Banyan troupe was hitting on all cylinders.

Osheroff's Tom repeatedly reminded me of Dustin Hoffman's character in The Graduate. Moreland neatly danced along the cliff edge of turning Helen into the jolly fat girl -- and did not fall in. She remained believable and sympathetic. Clark's character was a true shit -- but got most of the funniest lines in the play. Clark got a lot of comic mileage out of this bastard, which I mean as a compliment. Weise's Jeannie was a great comic characterization; a crackling thunderhead of hurt and sexual rejection -- an empowered modern woman ready to zap her ex-boyfriend at any time.

Kirk Hughes's set design (mix-and-match sliding panels) was downright groovy.

Director Greg Leaming got into a sit-com groove in the first act -- which I think followed LaBute's intention in the text. The couple meets cute; you expect When-Harry-Met-Sally rom-com payoff to follow. Like Lucy with the football, LaBute is suckering the Charlie Brown audience for the harsh truth of the second act. ("You expected a happy ending? Ha!" "Auuggggh!") Needless to say, the play switches gears, and the second act isn't so funny. The director switched gears, and suitably slapped our hearts around with the poignant -- if ultimately unbelievable -- material.

Yeah, unbelievable.

Once again, I'm forced to peel away a great performance from a script with bad (or dishonest) logic. That's always worse in a message play.

And that's exactly what this is.

Like a South Park episode, you always learn something after a LaBute play. In contrast to South Park, it's always bad news. I half expect Kyle to come out and say "I've learned something today. We'd like to think we accept fat people. We don't. We treat them like shit. If you like fat people, your friends reject you. That's just the way it is."

LaBute specializes in Satanic after school specials. His movies and plays usually revolve around some trendy issue. (Sexism, attitudes about fat people, etc.) He stakes out the politically correct attitude, and takes a contrary position. This makes his work "edgy."

With Fat Pig, once again, LaBute shoves our face in Harsh Reality and rubs our noses in it. But logic rears its ugly head ...

Bad logic:

* An up-and-coming corporate alpha male wouldn't take shit from his friends.
* A wimpy beta male who would take shit wouldn't have this successful position.
* Friends who trash your girlfriend and publicly humiliate you ain't friends.
* In the age of Sensitivity Training and lawsuits, this wouldn't happen so openly.

Yet again, logic be damned, LaBute has his message to make. But the theory of human character and behavior behind it doesn't add up. People aren't as rotten as LaBute makes them out to be. They aren't that righteous, either. People are rotten and righteous. It's a choice. That free-will thing.

I got the message.

I just don't buy it for a second.

Fat Pig
A Banyan Theater Company production
Through Aug. 23
FSU Center for the Performing Arts
5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota