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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Artists' Collective Theatre review: "Fat Pig"

Artists' Collective Theatre
Neil LaBute's "Fat Pig"

(photo courtesy of Leanne Williams, Red Shoe Photography. Pictured: Peter Dorrius, Amanda Liz Cutting, Tanner d'Esterre. Missing: Stephanie Orr)

The Sunday Morning "Before-Noon" Theatre Review: 

Artists' Collective Theatre presents Neil LaBute's 

"Fat Pig"

MOTEL, in the Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts

When the final "fade to black" concluded yesterday's performance of "Fat Pig", I thought "well, that was great, but what - 35, 40 minutes?" When I got out into the lobby and checked my phone, I discovered that the production had run an HOUR and 45 minutes, non-stop - no intermission. 

That's how deeply you get pulled completely into this thought-provoking exploration of human nature and sensitivity (or lack thereof) regarding people that may be different, however and by whomever that perception might be concluded.

Set in the intimate MOTEL theatre in Calgary's Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts, the audience surrounding the performers in their seats by less than a few yards away truly completes the immersion into this drama. From the first scene where the two main characters meet, the dialogue is authentic - a gentle verbal ping-pong match between plus-sized Helen and rake-thin Tom as they quickly move from awkward through nervous, to inquisitive, and on to tentative. It doesn't take long for both these actors to foreshadow where this will lead, but the audience is rewarded for the journey by the rich, real-life characters that populate the story.

Showcasing a tenuous grip on self-confidence tethered by a facade of bubbly personality, Amanda Liz Cutting as the full-figured Helen takes the audience on her emotional roller-coaster ride from start to finish. As her nervous, similarly lacking in self-assurance beau Tom, Peter Dorrius is equally talented at making his character's relationship questions of confidence and failures relatable.  

The sand in Tom's oyster of confidence is provided by two co-workers, his gregarious pal Carter (Tanner d'Esterre) and colleague/almost girlfriend Jeannie (Stephanie Orr). Again, as with the early meeting of Helen and Tom, the dialogue and reactions are truthful and believable. LaBute's writing doesn't drift into contrite or pretentious - you have likely heard a person, or even spoken like this yourself with close friends about others.

All of which makes this play work so well, and speed by in such a manner that you feel like you want to stay for a second act after it ends. In nature, sand in an oyster makes pearls. In weak wills, and under peer pressure from multiple directions, you may not get that perfect, hoped-for ending. 

There are so many interesting elements in "Fat Pig" - the societal and closer personal peer pressure, judgment over choices, the subjectivity of what or who a person is. And the political correctness that hovers over everything we choose to accept as "normal" or appropriate. One scene uses descriptions long relegated to the graveyard of societal acceptance: "fags", "cripples", and "retards". The only thing missing was the "n"-word. 

Can Tom find peace with his inability to come to terms with love despite the clear lack of acceptance by everyone he knows? I'm glad we don't get to find out by the end. 

Kudos to the crew for making everything work convincingly in a sparse stage design. Final  thought - not being familiar with this production before yesterday, I can't say if it was in the original script or a decision by ACT, but the Renaissance elements (the promotional poster, the Mona Lisa socks, and the book on the beach) were a reminder that society hasn't always held skinny women in the highest regard. Subjectivity, and people change with time...

"Fat Pig" runs March 26  - April 5


Mrs That Dan Guy said...

This play was very well done. I too could not believe it had been almost into 2 hours. Subject matter that, although awkward, is sadly, indeed all too true. The actors were fantastic and brave. I would have regretted not seeing this play.

ThatDanGuy said...

A great investment of time!!