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Chicago by John Olson

Fat Pig
Profiles Theatre

Also see John's review of Clay

Fat Pig
Darrell W. Cox and Deborah Hearst
For about the first hour and a half of its hour and forty minute length, Neil LaBute's Fat Pig comes off like a better-than-average TV sitcom of the type that explores the world of the urban young professional. It's raw enough to be on HBO rather than NBC, to be sure, maybe more Entourage or Sex and the City than Friends, but still the sort of situation that sets up a slightly uncomfortable situation and then resolves it in a neat, comfortable way. In Fat Pig, the uncomfortable situation is that Tom, a good-looking and single advertising professional, is dating an attractive, charming and intelligent but overweight woman. Will Tom overcome his embarrassment over Helen's weight and be able to ignore the scorn and teasing of his friends? If you don't want to know, stop here, but if you know LaBute's reputation for dissecting the cruelty of men toward women, you'll already know the answer.

A sitcom would have Helen dump Tom for someone better looking right before the last commercial break, but LaBute and this production by Profiles unflinchingly go to a more probable resolution. Though he's attracted to Helen intellectually and even physically, he succumbs to the social pressure of his friends and breaks up with her in an uncompromisingly painful closing scene. Here's where Profiles, under Joe Jahraus's exceptionally tight and confident direction, does what it does best: making its audiences really uncomfortable in facing tough truths.

Darrell W. Cox, who's made a name for himself by creating believably charming psychopaths, plays a regular guy for once. He does fine with the lighter material earlier in the play, but it's in the final scene where his usual intensity is put to good use. Though Deborah Hearst as Helen makes us feel every inch of her character's pain, Cox convinces us that Tom is deeply wounded by his own weakness and knows he's the bigger loser of the two. Helen will probably find someone else, a better person if not someone as good looking as Tom. Tom is probably never going get anyone as good as Helen, and will probably end up with someone like his ex, the attractive but needy Jeannie (Katie Crawford).

LaBute gives more lines to his male characters and he's written a worthy villain of sorts for this piece. Tom's co-worker Carter, his cocky chauvinism quite nicely captured by Eric Burgher, is the rough and tumble good old boy who most gets to Tom, even though Tom claims to dislike him. Carter plays upon Tom's need, like that of so many men, to have the approval of their "guy friends." At first he's just teasing Tom about Helen's size but he ultimately feigns concern for Tom when convincing him he really can do much better. Burgher has a youthful energy and complete lack of self-censorship that works quite well within the character as written, but given that Cox typically plays the more sinister types in Profiles productions, it might be fun to see the two of them switch parts later in what might be a lengthy run for this show.

Deborah Hearst as Helen does a great job with LaBute's tricky character who is sensitive about her weight, realizes it and tries hard to disarm people in advance without making them uncomfortable. She seemingly effortlessly shows intelligence, strength, heart and vulnerability. Katie Crawford has a little harder time doing much with the strident character LaBute wrote. It might have been nice if she could have found a few soft edges or shades of grey in the jilted, bitter Jeannie.

The set design by John P. Sundling effectively uses two walls facing each other(the audience sits in between to fill in the third and fourth walls) to represent Tom's office and Helen's apartment, with simple props setting the few other locales.

There are enough laughs and enough truth in this piece, and enough honesty in the production, to keep it running for quite a while.

Profiles Theatre's Midwest Premiere of Fat Pig by Neil LaBute. The production will run through October 29, 2006. Profiles Theatre is located at 4147 N. Broadway, Chicago. Reservations are recommended by calling (773)549-1815, or by visiting Profiles online at www.profilestheatre.org.


Photo: Wayne Karl

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-- John Olson



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