Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Fat Autobahn

I've become a bit of a Neil LaBute fan of late. Or at least a connoisseur.

First, there was Fat Pig, which I saw earlier this month at a pay-what-you-can performance with Grace, TrannieLuver, and Ms. Write Again Soon. Check out Ms. W.A.S.'s review.

Here is the summary:
This bitingly funny modern romance kicks off The Studio Theatre's Neil LaBute Festival. In a culture obsessed with beauty, can love ever be blind? Tom feels a magnetic attraction for the bright and witty Helen, but his coworkers are committed to saving him from himself. Cast: Kate Debelack (Helen), Tyler Pierce (Tom), Anne Bowles (Jeannie), and Jason Odell Williams (Carter).

This was my introduction to Neil LaBute and his direct, if a bit uncomfortable, treatment of subject matter meant to make you squirm (or at least shift in your seat). But that wasn't what left me so satisfied. Neither was his exploration of how we treat weight in our society, despite its refreshing candor.

No, there were two very specific (and more universal) reasons I enjoyed Fat Pig:

1. The acting and the script -- which was so good that the first half of the play left me positively beaming. The chance encounter of the overweight librarian and the corporate yuppie in a food court was replete with chemistry and comedy. I found myself giddy at their burgeoning relationship. The characters were also refreshingly real, even two superficially obnoxious office mates, who were given an opportunity to explore their motivations and provide depth.

2. The example of weight as a limitation to a relationship, served surprisingly well as analogous to other relationship pitfalls and death knells. It was saddening yet comforting to see a relationship strain under both external and internal pressures that threatened to overcome the clear joy the characters brought one another (or more accurately, that Helen brought Tom). I was surprised to see a reflection of my relationships, including when Tom implied that Helen lose weight (my first boyfriend, near the end, suggested that I gain weight -- and I resented my second boyfriend near the end when he didn't watch what he ate more closely) and when Tom told Helen he loved her for the first time in almost the same breath that he used to end it with her (this was my second boyfriend this time).

With that energy, I returned for autobahn:

"A tantalizing cycle of short plays full of edgy humor and shocking revelations all set in automobiles, autobahn explores the confines of this truly American space."

Unfortunately, autobahn was everything Fat Pig wasn't. The stories were creepy, the shocking revelations were implausible (if not at least hard to relate to), the comedy was strained, the characters were shallow, and none of them seemed to connect with one another (although in many cases perhaps that was the point). Its not a place I regret going, given the price, but its not terrain I'm anxious to cross again.

I'm going to return at the end of the month to close out the LaBute festival with readings, and perhaps that will be the determining factor of whether LaBute gets my sung praise, or just Fat Pig.


You should also check out some of his films: Shape of Things (weak), In the Company of Men (disturbing), and Your Friends and Neighbors (funny in a sadistic way).
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