Friday, Nov. 18, 2011

Fat Pig With Fools

A Crisp Staged Reading by the new t heater company.

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Playwright Neil LaButeLocal Actress Kelly Doherty

Fools For Tragedy held a reading to benefit the Hunger Task Force last night. I was expecting a good time—it was a talented cast involved in the reading. I wasn’t expecting to fully reappraise my overall impressions of Fat Pig.

Neil LaBute is one of the more dynamic late boomer/early X-er American playwrights. In The Company of Men was kind of a sinister social comedy . . . The Shape of Things is a lot edgier as a script than I’d  ever seen it delivered as a play. Reasons to Be Pretty comes really close to brilliance. But I didn’t feel like Fat Pig was terribly impressive in relationship to any of the rest of his work. The story of a traditionally attractive man falling in love with a plus-sized woman was nice and everything, but I felt that the ending . . . the part where he leaves her felt kind of abrupt and tremendously weak. There just wasn’t enough driving the play . . .

Having seen the stagged reading of the play last night, I have a completely different opinion of it . . . it may not be quite as aggressive as Reasons to be Pretty, but it’s got a brilliance to it all its own. And it seems kind of strange that this would have come to be the case given the fact that . . . when I first saw the show, it was a fully rendered Renaissance Theaterworks production. Seasoned Directed by Susan Fete and starring a really solid, professional cast including Braden Moran, Tanya Saracho, Wayne T. Carr and Leah Dutchin, that production was a very respectable professional presentation of the story. There was real emotion in there . . . it all felt strikingly real.

I guess the problem I had with Renaissance's production was with the nuances . . . at least in the performance that I saw, the ending seemed to come completely out of nowhere . . . and beyond that, maybe it was the fact that the chemistry between Moran and Saracho in the lead roles wasn’t convincing enough as a sophisticated romance. It felt real, but it didn’t feel sophisticated enough to leave room for all the subtle, little inconsistencies that creep into an otherwise perfectly nice romance and cause it to vanish into dust. Stripped of all the staging the Fools For Tragedy reading focused that much more on those nuances in a much more satisfying way.

Kelly Doherty took the role of the female lead—Helen. She’d loved this play from way back . . . Doherty’s take on the role was that much more inspired than the one I’d seen out of Saracho . . . The subtle interplay between intellectual charm and vulnerability in her take on the character is remarkably compelling. That alone would’ve been kind of disembodied without a really good understanding of things on the part of the male lead, which was read here by Jordan Gwiazdowski. Gwiazdowski and Doherty had a kind of connection in the dialogue that brought out all of LaBute’s sparkling little turns of phrase that make a script so distinctly his. I didn’t get that out of the fully staged production I’d seen. With so much of it falling flat, I kind of felt like it wasn’t a terribly good script . . . until I saw it again with a far more tightly-knit cast last night.

As I recall, the two supporting roles in the original production I saw came across much, much darker and less sympathetic than they did here. In a play with a more sophisticated plot, that might’ve been had the opportunity to be a bit less overwhelming. The other two characters are the male lead’s co-workers. And yes, they read like vicious, self-absorbed style-conscious jerks, but LaBute put more in those roles than that and I don’t recall them coming across nearly as sympathetic . . . by design, no doubt, but it made the world of the play feel very harsh and simplistic, which it can’t afford to be. Not that I disliked the performances of the actors in the Renaissance production. I loved Wayne T. Carr in the role of male co-worker . . . but he was absolutely horrible as a human being . . . Adam Zastrow came across as being more of a guy who was shallow and inconsiderate without being deliberately malicious. It was an easier performance to digest.

Likewise, Leah Dutchin had a vicious streak in her performance as the female co-worker who had recently dated the male lead. Workplace romance is very messy and it’s nice to see it ome across with a bit more texture on a second viewing. Fitting well into the rest of the ensemble, Jennifer Gaul plays a woman with a shallow superficiality that is matched by a real desire to honestly connect up with someone . . . and that very human desire provides just enough contrast to the shallowness of the rest of the character to make the dynamic between her and the male lead that much more engaging.

 In introducing the reading, Doherty said that the Fools were looking into doing a full staging of the piece. I  think that would be an exceedingly good idea if they’ve got the same cast.

Fools For Tragedy’s next show is a fully-staged production of Jordan Gwiazdowski’s WAITINGa promising mutation of an old Beckett classic. February 9th -18th. For more information, visit the Fools Online.

 

 

 

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