Theater Reviews

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Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at Geffen Playhouse, Westwood
Through June 17


In "Fat Pig," Neil LaBute's latest bulletin from the battlefield of the sexes, Tom (Scott Wolf) and Helen (Kirsten Vangsness) meet cute over carbs in a cafeteria. Tom is a trim, good-looking fellow, not too bright, who works in a corporate office. Helen is a quick-witted librarian with a sweet disposition and an open heart.

Oh, by the way, Helen weighs in at well more than 200 pounds, and she doesn't consider it a problem. Do you?

The two calorie-crossed lovers-to-be take an immediate liking to each other. But since LaBute is a playwright who likes to push buttons, we can already feel the fickle finger of weight bearing down on them.

Sure enough, two of Tom's officemates, Jeannie (Andrea Anders) and Carter (Chris Pine), think Tom has lost his mind and are only too eager to tell him so. Jeannie is a sexy young lady who has been dating Tom and takes it personally that he prefers a woman of Helen's abundant proportions to her own. Carter is another in a long line of dirtbag, adolescent males LaBute specializes in creating (consider "In the Company of Men" and "Your Friends & Neighbors," among others). Between the two of them, Tom -- who isn't quite sure what he thinks about anything -- gets an earful about Helen's shortcomings that gradually takes its toll.

"Pig" raises larger questions about our appearance-obsessed culture that deserve an airing. In particular, it focuses on the degree to which our romantic choices are dictated by the approval of others; and, interestingly, how the disapproval of others is often because of their hidden fears and insecurities.

At the same time, the piece often feels more like a demonstration of a theme than a play. The drama's focus is so tight and the characters so narrowly drawn that you can almost predict what idea the next scene is going to illustrate. It's a tribute to LaBute's ability to write pungent, amusing dialogue that the characters hold up as well as they do.

Partly this is because Jo Bonney, who directed the play's off-Broadway debut in 2004, has assembled a crackerjack cast. We have to see what Tom sees in Helen, and Vangsness captures the character's vulnerability and honesty with an offhand charm that makes her quite likable. Wolf accomplishes what might be an even more difficult task because Tom is sensitive but a wuss who is filled with contradictions he himself doesn't understand. Pine is spot-on as the poisonous Carter, and Anders is unsparing as every man's worst nightmare -- a woman scorned who's out for blood.

"Pig" is a provocative play that accomplishes what it sets out to do: make us think. But one day, when LaBute finally grows up, he's going to write a really terrific play about grown-up people.

FAT PIG
Presented by the Geffen Playhouse
Credits:
Playwright: Neil LaBute
Director: Jo Bonney
Set designer: Louisa Thompson
Lighting designer: Lap-Chi Chu
Costume designer: Tina Haatainen Jones
Sound designer: Colbert S. Davis IV
Cast:
Helen: Kirsten Vangsness
Tom: Scott Wolf
Carter: Chris Pine
Jeannie: Andrea Anders
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