Steppenwolf Theatre, in partnership with Northwestern University, presents the Third Annual NEXT UP. The NEXT UP series showcases graduate students from NU’s MFA programs in Direction and Design. This year the three shows running in repertory are FAT PIG, THE DRUNKEN CITY, and THE INTERNATIONALIST.
As a plus size woman, I was hesitant to see FAT PIG. The plot is about a hot stud falling for a fat chick. His friends‘ reactions are to ridicule him. Now, I have enjoyed multiple LaBute plays. From my last LaBute review, I wrote: His dialogue is riddled with profanity and comedy. His characters are usually acerbic. And the drama typically twists and warps unexpectedly. I’m often left marred for life after a LaBute show. His nuggets of wisdom ordinarily leave deep tissue bruises.
So, I was concerned how this personally sensitive subject would be handled in LaBute’s calloused hands. Well, I loved it. The plus size gal is the self-made hero. In her opening scene, a confident Anne Joy (Helen) states, “I’m pretty alright with myself right now. The trick is trying to get others there.” LaBute makes this character big, bold and beautiful. Costume Designer Chelsey Batson dresses her for the role in sexy librarian attire. And the lovely Anne Joy owns the part by flirting with moxie. Yet, this story is about her but mostly about the others.
Under the skillful direction of David Prete, the work place banter is genuine. The dude relationship between Josh Bywater (Tom) and JJ Phillips (Carter) is the frat-meets-happy-hour type. Bywater talks in circles to avoid telling the truth. Bywater earnestly grapples with his friends and himself. He tries to overcome his membership in a superficial world. The likable good guy Bywater garners empathy for stepping in and out of his comfort zone. Phillips is hysterical. His blunt tirades are the sad and honest truth. When he describes a childhood memory, I well up. Later, Phillips explains the facts of life with nonchalant brutality. It’s a searing slap of reality. The uptight Baize Buzan (Jeannie) plays it part stalker but mostly bitchy, mean girl.
Buzan verbally starts the name calling and then the four monitor screens fill with the abusive mockery. Batson doubles as scene designer and keeps the stage minimally furnished. She uses the projected imagery to effectively display what’s going on in Tom’s head. In the office, digits continually scroll along with the words: perseverance, character, leadership, success. It’s like corporate motivational posters. It works perfectly to understand who Tom strives to be.
FAT PIG was a big fat surprise. LaBute pulls down the cubicle wall and let’s us see the rat race during coffee breaks. It’s refreshingly and devastatingly sincere.
Leaving the theatre depressed, Shawn describes it with “Is courage fallacy?”
Running Time: One hour and thirty-five minutes with no intermission
At Steppenwolf Garage Theatre, 1624 N. Halsted
Written by Neil LaBute
Directed by David Prete
June 5th, 9th, 13th @8pm
June 8th @5pm
June 15th @9pm
June 16th @4pm
Buy Tickets at www.steppenwolf.org
Production photo courtesy of Joel Moorman