Playwright Neil LaBute looks at human failings with an unforgiving eye. It seems to be his specialty.
By ROBERT TRUSSELL
The Kansas City Star
His work can be excruciating and squirm-inducing because of his gift for depicting emotional cruelty as an almost mundane activity in an unremarkable middle-class environment. In LaButes world, a character can destroy someones life as casually as ordering a short stack at the pancake house.
This is the world we encounter in the Living Rooms production of Fat Pig, LaButes 2004 play that is merciless in its depiction of corrosive peer pressure, social attitudes about fat people, hypocrisy and moral cowardice.
For some viewers, Fat Pig may bring to mind In the Company of Men, LaButes 1997 film in which two mid-level corporate executives sadistically toy with the emotions of a deaf woman who works in their office. Theres even a line in Fat Pig that slyly refers to the movie.
This play is different. Malice here is less an aggressive act than a default position. A chance meeting between Tom, a young executive for a corporation whose business is never identified, and Helen, a size-plus young librarian, leads to an intimate relationship that cannot stand up to the caustic criticisms of two of Toms co-workers and Toms inability to summon courage enough to stand up for the woman he loves.
Thats the sad part Tom and Helen really do love each other. By the plays conclusion, both are devastated.
The Living Room production, directed by Bryan Moses, is memorable for two reasons nice performances from a talented cast and the directors decision to stage the show in promenade style. What that means is the performance moves from room to room followed by the audience. The Living Room has so much space at its disposal that what might be dismissed as a gimmick actually works.
The company did this once before with a production of Harold Pinters Betrayal. In that show and in Fat Pig the effect is the same. Viewers are kept slightly off balance, thanks to an ever-changing perspective. They are forced to invest in the play to an extent that might not be possible in a conventional setup.
In a show of good performances, none is better than Kenzie Wests take on Helen. Helen is open, funny, charming and vulnerable, and West negotiates the changing emotional landscape with impressive skill. As Tom, a guy who is virtually incapable of telling the truth, Bob Linebarger will have you either rooting for him to conquer his insecurities or resisting the urge to slap him across the mouth. His performance makes Tom appropriately opaque as he tries to weasel out of anything resembling an emotional commitment.
Matthew James McAndrews plays Carter, Toms friend, with the detachment of a calm sadist. Carter inserts himself into Tom and Helens relationship and is the never-ending voice of conformity. Skinny people shouldnt be with heavy people, he argues. People need to stick with their own kind. McAndrews reptilian performance will linger in the mind.
As Jeanne, an office worker who once dated Tom, Liz Golson offers a strong performance as a young woman who takes Toms attraction to Helen as a personal insult. Golson has established herself as a gifted comic actress and she gets to use some of her comedic skills in this show. But this is a serious performance. She never loses sight of the hurt and anger that drive Jeanne.
Moses has elicited uncommonly detailed portrayals from his cast. LaBute writes realistic dialogue that often consists of unfinished sentences and incomplete thoughts. The playwright sometimes finds eloquence in his inarticulate conversations and these actors dont miss a beat.
Fat Pig runs through Feb. 23 at the Living Room, 1818 McGee. For more information and tickets, or go to LivingroomKC.com.