'Fat Pig' Takes the Prize at Aurora Theatre

Photo: Weight watchers. Peter Ruocco as Carter and Jud Williford as Tom perform in a scene from 'Fat Pig,' Neil LaBute's brutally honest look into body image and modern values.
Jeff Totten/Photo
Weight watchers. Peter Ruocco as Carter and Jud Williford as Tom perform in a scene from 'Fat Pig,' Neil LaBute's brutally honest look into body image and modern values.

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'Fat Pig' at Aurora Theatre
Aurora Theatre produces Neil LaBute's 'Fat Pig.'

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Playwright Neil LaBute's "Fat Pig" at Aurora Theatre Company in Berkeley is an alternately rude and heartwarming play laced with sweet moments, insults and profanity. It is an all-out assault at the image-obsessed, morally craven culture that the current generation constantly is bombarded with and often embraces. And it is so good it is almost painful to watch. It is, in short, the type of theater we need to be seeing.

LaBute presents the tale of a successful, good-looking man, Tom (Jud Williford), who meets a charming librarian named Helen (Liliane Klein) over vanilla pudding at a lunch cafeteria. He asks her out to dinner, and soon enough they begin to fall in love. Problem is, Helen happens to be overweight.

Why should that be a problem? When Tom's work friends, Carter and Jeannie, catch on to the fact that he has a new love interest, they pester him incessantly until they discover who it is. And when they do, the pestering turns violent, and it becomes clear that well-to-do Tom and his trim colleagues have more trouble overcoming their own insecurities than the confident Helen does. Brazenly honest about her size and unaffected by the opinions of others, Klein's Helen is radiant, funny and strong-willed. Her interaction with Tom is refreshingly sincere, and every moment she is onstage is a joy.

The show is remarkably well-cast, and strong performances throughout make this production a success. In a strange foil to Helen's kind nature, Peter Ruocco's Carter at first appears to be just a lovable asshole who makes trouble wherever he goes. But his character slowly devolves into a serious asshole who wields a very real brand of anger and hatred, and his acting grows less comedic and neurotic. With an unsettling nonchalance, he looks Tom in the eye and suggests that by dating Helen, he is wasting his youth and good looks. Jeannie (Alexandra Creighton), the office accountant who Tom had been dating prior to meeting Helen, demands constant validation from the people around her. She is, bluntly, an insufferable bitch and an unflattering portrait of an image-oriented modern woman. Creighton's performance is frustrating and shallow, which is completely appropriate in the context of her character. Caught in this whirlwind of accusation and disapproval, Tom finds himself ashamed of the woman he is beginning to love.

In the midst of all these heated arguments and crushing moments, the dialogue is consistently, effortlessly modern and the cadence of the actors' speeches is uncannily natural under the direction of Barbara Damashek. Likewise, the play fits well in the small space Aurora has-upfront scene changes and a neat modular set keep the pace of the show snappy and allow the action to unfold in a compact but explosive way.

So yes, "Fat Pig" is a play that has a caustic title and is built on cruel social constructs. This is no accident. Unafraid of offending, LaBute fully intends to leave his audiences disgusted with how easily characters succumb to these constructs. And in Aurora's hands, the despicable nature of his characters and the world they operate in is laid bare, and by the end, it becomes clear that the "Fat Pig" on stage is anyone but Helen.

This portrayal of the repercussions of dating an overweight woman is eerily familiar to the social problems an interracial or interclass relationship might have had in the past. And in this sense, "Fat Pig" is relevant because it warns us that we've only come so far. In the modern hierarchy of image, "pretty" and "skinny" are the new standards of success and potential. The audience is left revolted by not only the failures of the characters but with the failures of their own culture. After all, as Carter so pointedly reminds Tom: "We are all just one step away from becoming what we are afraid of."

Tell Arielle she's wasting her youth and good looks at [email protected]

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