Presented by MCC Theater, casting by Bernard Telsey Casting, at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St., NYC, Dec. 15-Feb. 5.
For the first five minutes of "Fat Pig," Neil LaBute's latest foray into the theatre of cruelty, a "big-boned" woman stands alone at a café table, eating and eating and eating. This is Helen, hardly the one who launched a thousand ships, but the eponymous, brave, honest figure surrounded by people who compensate for their weaknesses by intimidation and cowardice. In 95 intermissionless minutes, Helen searches for emotional dimensions while they, the real devourers, settle for simplistic, physical ones. Although the play is sour and the characters made of straw, the evening has a piteous fascination.
Helen is a librarian or, more PC, a "printed word specialist." At "that first meeting with her" (titles set each scene), the handsome thirty-something Tom strikes up a conversation, takes her phone number, and begins a romance.
But Tom cannot break away from two destructive office mates. One, Carter, warns that this society exists on appearance. "People are not comfortable with difference," he says. "They scare us or something." The other is Jeannie, a former date, as skinny as a sapling and filled with vitriol.
Director Jo Bonney draws distinct parallels between the two couples—the users and the used. As Helen, Ashlie Atkinson gives a yearning yet unsentimental performance, her eyes betraying the wariness behind her openness. As Tom, Jeremy Piven's whole body differentiates between the freedom of his feelings and the shackles of his dependence. Keri Russell's Jeannie and Andrew McCarthy's Carter are sketched as superficial figures who have no problem making peace with a shallow society.
Louisa Thompson's sleek set and Matt Frey's cold lighting both isolate and impinge on the characters, emphasizing the harsh industrialism that crushes individualism. Mimi O'Donnell's costumes are just right. Robert Kaplowitz's driving, between-scenes additional music contrasts with a sound design that reminds us of what in nature we lost when we made a pact with the devil of conformity.