Obesity and self-image are very serious issues in this country that rarely get directly addressed in contemporary drama. While Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig does very little to rectify this, these issues come to the center of a story so rarely that it ends up being very provocative. Renaissance Theaterworks ends its current season with the romantic drama, now through May 18.
Tanya Saracho plays an overweight librarian named Helen who meets a handsome professional named Tom (Braden Moran). The two hit it off and begin dating. This is considerably more awkward than it sounds and that’s not just because LaBute’s script deftly captures the uneasiness of two people falling in love. Saracho and Moran don’t quite fall into their characters until midway through the first scene. Once Saracho and Moran have comfortably slid into their characters the play becomes quite engaging. Saracho brings enough charm to the stage to make Tom’s attraction to Helen seem believable without overwhelming. Her Helen is a shy and cautious type. Saracho’s delicate dramatic balance between caution and confidence renders the social tensions in LaBute’s script with an admirable amount of detail.
Braden Moran has considerably less ground to cover in the romantic scenes. He competently captures the emotions of someone falling in love, but his real challenge lies in complexities beyond the relationship that take place while Helen isn’t there. Much of the play takes place at Tom’s workplace. It’s an office where very little actual work seems to get done. Tom is plagued by constant distractions from his abrasive co-worker Carter (Wayne T. Carr) and Jeannie, his ex-girlfriend in accounting played by Leah Dutchin. As they are both quite attractive professionals themselves, Carter and Jeannie have considerable difficulty understanding Tom’s relationship with Helen. They may be somewhat shallow, but LaBute renders a depth to them that Carr and Dutchin capture with impressive poise. In fact, the realism with which they are brought to the stage makes the emotional intensity of Tom’s interaction with his co-workers feel a bit surreal. Why so much concern over Tom dating someone a bit heavier than they are? This poses weird questions about the production. Should Saracho have gained weight for the role in order to increase the contrast between her and Moran? Should Moran have done more to look like a male model, thus increasing the contrast on his end? Why is there always so much concern over appearances?