By Susannah Whitman
If you haven’t been to An Other Theatre Company’s space in Provo yet, Fat Pig is your chance. It takes a little getting used to…walking into a shopping mall to see theatre. But once you’re inside the intimate black box space, the rest of the world outside disappears.
For their current production of Fat Pig, the walls are a cheerful sky blue, and fluffy clouds hang from the ceiling to complement Paige Porter’s lighting design. Janice Chan’s set design also incorporates several large blocks, each painted with food—a donut, French fries, ice cream—which are rearranged to create each location. Actual food is also sitting onstage, and the actors occasionally use food to represent other props. An apple represents a picture. A slice of bread represents a file. The actors tend to eat their emotions, and food covers the floor by the end of the night. As the emotions of the show get messier and uglier, so does the set.
The play opens with Tom (Tyler Fox) and Helen (Hannah Davenport) meeting in a restaurant. Their flirtatious banter ends with a plan to go on a date. But Tom has to deal with what friends, strangers, exes, and co-workers think of Helen. It’s not that Helen is a bad person. It’s just that she’s fat. Tom is young and skinny and handsome, and Helen is genuine and beautiful and honest and at home in her own skin, even though society tells her she shouldn’t be. When he’s with Helen, Tom is happy. When he’s with either of his co-workers, the obnoxious Carter (Jesse Nepivoda) or the jealous Jeannie (Emma Robinson), his instinct is to hide his relationship with Helen.
Under the direction of Morag Shepherd, the four actors work beautifully to tell a powerful story about our weaknesses and our strengths. Davenport and Fox’s chemistry as the two romantic leads is palpable. Davenport’s confidence as Helen is bright and honest, and her command of the sharp wit in the script is delightful. In her moments of vulnerability, Davenport connects directly with the audience in ways that alternate between breaking your heart and forcing you to examine your heart. As Tom, Fox is funny and sympathetic. It’s easy to see the charm he’s lived with so far, and how disarmed he is by his feelings for Helen.
Nepivoda plays the offensive and somehow endearing Carter to perfection. While his character is a jerk who never takes anything seriously for most of the show, his monologue about his mother took on a sincerity that was truly moving. In a role that can best be described as “the crazy ex-girlfriend,” Robinson’s commitment and humor are phenomenal. Her satirically seductive rearrangement of acting blocks is hysterically funny, but she too has moments of sincerity that went straight to my heart.
Shepherd’s direction found pointed moments to call the audience out on their own prejudices. In order to feel the full effect of the show, you’ve got to face your own opinions. You’ve got to be willing to see yourself in each of the characters, and Shepherd finds so many opportunities to let the audience do so.
I’ve also got to commend sound design by Paige Porter—the songs used in the show are harsh and powerful and the perfect punkish fit. Costumes/makeup/hair design by Chris Lancaster are stunning. I especially loved Jeannie’s green shirt and lizard necklace ensemble.
Neil LeBute’s script is a challenging one in some ways. There are aspects of it that may make audiences uncomfortable. What are the bad things that each of us has done or said? Have we been willing to change for those we love? Should we have to? Have we let our sorrow grow into bitterness or anger? But all of these challenging questions are embraced by the creative team at An Other Theatre Company in their production of Fat Pig. Their venue is small, as is their budget. But a wise artist once said that constriction makes us creative, and An Other Theatre Company’s exquisite artistry and creativity make them one of the most exciting new theater companies in Utah. Fat Pig is well worth a hike through the mall to see a brilliant production at an exciting new theater.
An Other Theatre Company presents Fat Pig by Neil LaBute
An Other Theatre Company, Provo Towne Centre Mall, 1200 Towne Centre, 2nd floor, near Dillard’s
January 5 – January 27, 2018 7:30 PM Fridays and Saturdays
Tickets: $15 adults, $13 students/seniors
An Other Theater Company Facebook Page
Fat Pig Facebook Event
Content advisory: adult situations, strong language (rated R)