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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

New Play Asks: Would You Date a “Fat Pig”?

Tom and Helen snuggle up on the couch
Tom and Helen snuggle up on the couch

Neil Labute is no stranger to controversy or giving offense. New York Magazine hails him as “funny in a mean way, or mean in a funny way, depending on your point of view” and also “arguably, the most legitimately provocative and polarizing playwright at work today.” The New Yorker calls his work “twisted amorality plays.”

Fans may remember other work of Labute’s from the gleefully misogynistic and womanizing characters of the independent film In The Company of Men, or the destructive extra-marital affairs of the follow-up Your Friends and Neighbors. Labute has made an art form of developing characters that are fatally Floorawed and enjoy living on the darker side of life.

But there’s a ray of hope in his new play, Fat Pig, which is being performed by SpeakEasy Stage Company through April 7 at the Roberts Studio Theatre. Fat Pig tells the tale of Tom, a good-looking, upwardly mobile young career man who falls in love, despite himself, with Helen, a plus-sized woman. He is mercilessly goaded by his friends about his new relationship because of his girlfriend’s physical size.

Helen’s character humanizes the previously shallow protagonist. Tom is forced to defend his relationship and in the process must come to terms with his own preconceived ideas about the importance of traditional “good looks.” The character also has to question his ability to stand up for what he loves and change the things that he dislikes about himself.

According to press materials for Fat Pig, the play is meant to “critique our slavish adherence to Hollywood ideals of beauty.” It’s meant to get audience viewers to ask themselves serious questions such as; what if the person you were dating was seriously overweight? To some, it definitely doesn’t matter, and the other person might be quite secure. But what if you’re a person to whom appearance is supremely important? What about your friends? Co-workers? Family? Could a loved one’s weight actually impact these relationships, as well as other aspects of one’s life such as career and self-esteem?

Labute has the credentials to pose such questions in sharply comedic drama. In addition to his six major motion picture credits, Labute has also authored eight plays that have made it to off-Broadway production on both sides of the Atlantic. Labute’s work has become a staple of The Public Theatre in New York City as well as The Almeida in London. He’s often been praised for his handling of hot-button topics in such unsettling portrayals of human relations as Wrecks, Some Girl(s), The Mercy Seat, and The Shape of Things, a tale of broken romance in which “traditional” gender roles are reversed.

With Fat Pig, the offensive title came to Labute first, before any of the content. Labute says “there was something about that title that just struck me as a provocative notion. I thought, ‘What is a play called Fat Pig going to be about?’ It’s often a thing that can be hurled at women, not men; but I wanted to keep working beyond just the issues of weight and got interested in Tom’s struggle leading two lives [private and public].”

Boston University alumnus Liliane Klein heads the Boston cast as Helen, and SpeakEasy’s General Manager and Production Manager Paul Melone will direct.

FAT PIG will be presented in the Nancy and Edward Roberts Studio Theatre in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End. For tickets to or more information about FAT PIG, the public is invited to call the Boston Theatre Scene Box-Office at 617-933-8600 or go online to www.SpeakEasyStage.com.