Theater review: ‘FAT PIG’ a captivating take on self-image in America

Jud Williford and Liliane Klein in Fat Pig Photo by David Allen
In Review

Fat Pig

4 out of 4 stars
4 out of 5 stars - 'Smashing'
    Aurora Theatre Company
    Directed by Barbara Damashek
    Starring Jud Williford, Liliane Klein, Peter Ruocco, Alexandra Creighton
    by Neil Labute
    Review by Clinton Stark
    Jud Williford and Liliane Klein in Fat Pig  Photo by David Allen
    Jud Williford and Liliane Klein in Fat Pig Photo by David Allen

    Near the end of Fat Pig, a no-holds barred look at how we think about ourselves and others, plus-size Helen says, “I would change for you.” But the real question is whether Tom, her peer-pressure laden lover, will do the same.

    Written by American playwright and filmmaker Neil LaBute, the dialog is fresh, cutting. It often makes us cringe. There are many awkward, but truthful moments in this play that reveals the ugly side of human nature; the kind impacted by decades of airbrushed and Photoshopped cover models, and by the pressure to be unnaturally thin. Does weight matter? Should it?

    Peer pressure is at a feverish pitch, especially when office politics and romance are thrown into the stew.

    A chance cafeteria meeting in “a big city near the ocean” between Helen (Lilian Klein) and Tom (Jud Williford) begins innocently enough, and soon blossoms into what originally appeared to be an unlikely romance.

    Tom finds Helen’s interest in old war movies quirky and interesting. And she is drawn to his charming, self-effacing ways. Although Tom sees beauty in Helen, inside and out, and loves “every curve,” co-workers Carter (Peter Ruocco) and Jeannie (Alexandra Creighton) are disgusted with the relationship.

    l-r, Jud Williford, Peter Ruocco, and Alexandra Creighton in Fat Pig  Photo by David Allen
    l-r, Jud Williford, Peter Ruocco, and Alexandra Creighton in Fat Pig Photo by David Allen

    While Tom soaks in every moment he spends with Helen as if paddling down a river in their own private boat, sheltered from the world, Helen soon realizes that he’s reluctant to be seen in public with her—at least in romantic terms. Later, under the bright sun on the beach, both character and skin are revealed. The weak and fearful come to light, despite a superficial societally-driven layer that would suggest otherwise. LaBute does not write Disney (“It’s part of my makeup to ruin a perfectly good day for people.”)

    The story, sets and acting are all effective. Jud Williford paces around his office, firing off emails, filing papers and trying to deal with his prying co-workers. His performance is pitch perfect. You believe the quandary. You feel the pressure of his decisions. Peter Ruocco lends a Satanic hand to the proceedings with a sly characterization of the best, yet most annoying, friend. He just loves to watch a relationship or two crash and burn, and is more than happy to tell all. Alexandra Creighton is the scorned lover from accounting with more than a passing interest in expense reports.

    Liliane Klein, as Helen, of course is at the center of everyone’s attention. Her performance is also excellent, never forced. And nuanced when needed (flirting with Tom) and, later, vulnerable, maybe even desperate (eating a hot dog at the beach).

    The play, with no intermission, moves briskly without getting distracted by unwieldy sets. What remains is a very human core.

    Fat Pig
    by Neil LaBute
    Aurora Theatre Company
    4 Stars
    Directed by Barbara Damashek
    Starring Jud Williford, Lilian Klein, Peter Ruocco, Alexandra Creighton

    Now through December 6, 2009

    • The actors must bring a hunger to the stage as several must eat substantial amounts of real food.
    • Neil LaBute: I still don’t get the “bad-boy playwright” reference; again, I ask, does he smoke, where a leather jackey and drive a Camaro?
    • Projection… spotted, once again!
    • Trauma, not again: someone please tell me what Bay Area/West Coast actor has not appeared in this show?
    • Rumor mill: Will Ashton Kutcher accept an offer to star in the Broadway version?
    • Aurora Theatre continues to produce hard-hitting, intelligent material. Like the excellent Awake and Sing, Fat Pig too doesn’t sugar coat the message… we like that, a lot.
    • Did you know? Aurora Theatre is the first certified “green” professional residential theater company in the Bay Area. To meet qualification, the Company had to set up in-house recycling and composting. Look for recycle drop offs at theater exit for program guides, for example.
    • Mark you calendar: Script Club, Monday, November 30, 2009, 7:30. Second annual, free, with Tennessee William’s 1955 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
    • Next up at Aurora: The First Grade, January 22 – February 28, 2010
    Follow Stark Insider on Twitter and Facebook. Join our 11,000 subscribers who read SI on tablets and smartphones on Google Newsstand. Prefer video? Watch us on Amazon Prime or subscribe to Stark Insider on YouTube, the largest arts & travel channel in San Francisco.