Most of us have had lovers who we swooned over in private but didn’t introduce to our friends and work colleagues -“ and all the more so perhaps when the lovers were the same sex. In Fat Pig it is not homosexuality that’s the problem but the more contemporary crime of the beloved being too fat.
Tom is petrified that his office colleagues, one a geeky mate close to misogyny, the other Tom’s on-off girlfriend, will discover that his new love is a smart plump librarian called Helen. They are bitterly cruel when they discover her size and Tom is too weak to resist their social disapproval.
Carter, his mate, explains that Tom has too much going for him, young, handsome and successful, to spoil all by being associated with the hefty Helen. Jeannie, the former girlfriend of beanstalk proportions, is just incredulous that in modern day America anyone could actually choose a plump partner.
People are not comfortable with difference, you know? argues Carter. Fags, retards, cripples, fat people, old folks even. We’re all just one step away from being what frightens us, what we despise.
With a fine ear for acerbic dialogue, Neil LaBute writes dark plays about sexual power and betrayal, and says his hero is fellow US playwright David Mamet. People often wonder (unnecessarily) whether LaBute is condoning or dissecting misogyny, which makes a nice tension in his theatre.
Fat Pig is, amazingly, one of his less brutal plays, where the characters are more rounded and engaging. As Tom, James Saunders progresses from being charmingly self-deprecating and uncertain, to being seriously exposed as a weak man unable to resist conformity. Katrina Milosevic brings to Helen the right mix of vulnerability and jolly fat optimism. And Ed Wightman and Felicity Price are strong as Carter and Jeannie.
Peter Evan’s production is similarly random, eliciting strong performances but relying more on stage business than stripping this short play back to the real pain and truth. We are left with a witty sketch more than a play, albeit one through which the audience still groans and sighs with recognition.
Fat Pig is playing at the Sydney Theatre Company Wharf Theatre until November 12.