To my absolute amazement, I really liked Fat Pig:
I’m sure I’m not the only theatergoer who’s had trouble making up his mind about Neil LaBute, whose powerful new play, “Fat Pig,” opened Wednesday at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. No one is better than Mr. LaBute at sketching the outlines of a relationship: A few quick strokes of casual-sounding dialogue and it’s right there in front of you. Nor has he any rivals at the dark art of making an audience anxious: Time and again his characters say and do things so disturbing, and so unexpected, that you all but break out in a sweat of discomfort as you watch them warily circling one another, looking for a chance to shove in the blade. Yet his work is also blighted by a coarse didacticism that too often manifests itself in here’s-what-it-all-means speeches as blatant as an episode of “Dragnet,” and I’ve never felt inclined to write in unmixed praise of anything he’s done–until now.
Why is “Fat Pig” different? Partly, I think, because the point of this hard-edged little fable, produced by MCC Theater and running through Jan. 15, is so self-evident that Mr. LaBute feels no need to harp on it. As the lights go up, we see Helen (Ashlie Atkinson), a bright, funny, seriously overweight young woman, eating to excess in a cafeteria. Tom (Jeremy Piven), a somewhat less bright, reasonably good-looking white-collar gent, sits down at her table. They strike up a conversation, and Tom discovers, to his obvious surprise, that he finds her appealing. No sooner does she give him her phone number (a typically LaButeian touch) than we meet Tom’s friend Carter (Andrew McCarthy), a viciously callous yuppie who regards his interest in Helen with contemptuous pity, and Jeannie (Keri Russell, formerly of TV’s “Felicity”), Tom’s alarmingly thin semi-girlfriend, who is reduced to a frenzy of self-loathing at the thought that he might prefer a “fat bitch” to her. With that, the game’s afoot, and you know somebody’s going to get hurt–badly.
Can love really conquer all? It’s to Mr. LaBute’s credit that he stares down this tough question without blinking, seconded by the performances of his four-person cast and the taut staging of Jo Bonney (“Living Out”). In Ms. Bonney’s knowing hands, each scene is screwed up to the highest possible degree ot tension without slopping over into sadistic excess, and none of the characters is ever permitted to overplay his or her hand….
Not so The Rivals, which I loved and expected to:
It’s been a long time between drinks for Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s “The Rivals,” written in 1775 and last seen on Broadway in 1942. Now Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater is putting on a sumptuous new production of Sheridan’s classic comedy that isn’t even slightly musty.
Directed at a brisk canter by Mark Lamos (“Big Bill”), this delightfully noisy tale of two young couples and their discontents offers its good-sized cast of scene-stealers plenty of prime opportunities to strut their stuff. Who comes out on top? That’s an impossible call, though Dana Ivey has more than her share of the best lines as the linguistically challenged Mrs. Malaprop (“Female punctuation forbids me to say more!”). You’ll revel in the lewd, gravelly basso of Brian Murray as Sir Lucius O’Trigger; you’ll be touched by the unforced warmth and sincerity of Carrie Preston as Julia Melville; you’ll be thrilled by the infallible comic authority of Richard Easton as Sir Anthony Absolute. As for John Lee Beatty’s too-good-to-be-true set, which depicts a block of townhouses in Bath, it’ll knock you out even before you’ve gotten settled in your seat….
Nor was I much surprised by my strong negative response to The Baltimore Waltz, since Paula Vogel’s been disappointing me for quite some time now:
Paula Vogel’s “The Baltimore Waltz,” playing through Jan. 9 at the Signature Theatre Company’s Peter Norton Space, is a nauseatingly coy black comedy about AIDS. Written in 1989, it’s being revived as part of the Signature’s season-long series of productions of Ms. Vogel’s plays. Her brother died of AIDS not long before she started writing the play, and I trust that it helped ease her sorrow, but that doesn’t make the results any more artful.
The only good thing about “The Baltimore Waltz” is the ever-wondrous Kristen Johnston, cast in what I take to be the semi-autobiographical role of a woman who, upon learning that her brother (David Marshall Grant) is dying of AIDS, dreams that she has been infected by a deadly virus caught from unclean toilet seats and known as Acquired Toilet Disease, or ATD (“It seems to be an affliction, so far, of single schoolteachers”). This, I fear, is Ms. Vogel’s sensible-shoes version of Swiftian irony, and it is a tribute to Ms. Johnston’s powers as a comedienne that she actually contrives to squash a few laughs out of it….
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