Fat Pig may be the latest cruel outing by Neil Labute, who seems to see humanity as an ongoing trainwreck. The wheels have not come off; they’ve never been on. Labute explores trends or currents in the tragedy, and this current exploration of inhumanity revolves around obesity and how this all-too-human condition is greeted with revulsion by all who encounter it and also by those who fall into it.
Theatre en Bloc’s treatment of the play and the condition is sensitive and energetic at the same time. The characters stoutly proclaim their positions and never back off. Yes, it comes to violence, and the production stages one short and very clarifying fight scene, very, very, well done. Emotional violence takes place throughout the play, conveyed subtly but unmistakably by the cast. Zena Marie Vaughn as Helen, the title character, leads the cast with boldness and a certain indefinable emotional delicacy. We the audience members are with her through it all, even the waves of self-loathing she fights to put behind her. Charles P. Stites plays Carter, who gives most of the exposition in the play and has the largest vocabulary of derogatory terms for overweight people in the entire play. He and Jenny Lavery as Jeannie form the peer group, looking on the improbable but truly heartfelt romance between Tom, played by Ryan Hamilton, and Helen.
Labute brings his characters to a final scene on the beach, and this is the stroke of brilliance in the play. The beach as sign, symbol, and metaphor of revelation, where everything is revealed and we gotta wear shades from the brightness and acute truth of exposure, is embraced at every level. Even the smallest kernels of joy would have shown here with diamond brilliance. Alas.
The opening weekend suffered glitches with the complex set, but they were all ironed out to provide audiences with a smooth and highly thought-provoking theatrical experience. Theatre en Bloc’s co-directors are Derek Kolluri and Jenny Lavery, who are committed to environmentally friendly and economically viable theatre in Austin. They have taken a step in this direction with Fat Pig, but they have also added to the artistic sophistication of the theatre scene. Fat Pig runs until October 20th, 2013 at the Off Center in east Austin.