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Philadelphia by Tim Dunleavy

Fat Pig and
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

Fat Pig
Ed Renninger and Paul Felder
Photo: Dan Phelal
Neil LaBute is the type of playwright who seems to measure success by how much he polarizes his audience. In Fat Pig, he tackles weight, body image, and the way they're judged by modern society. These are issues that many people would like to ignore, and Fat Pig is a play that is bound to make everyone who watches it uncomfortable at times. But that's what makes it so compelling. Director Matthew Decker's excellent production for Theatre Horizon walks a fine line, accenting all of the play's outrageous humor and sobering truths.

Tom meets Helen in a cafeteria, and is attracted to her by her openness, impertinence, and self-deprecating humor. They start dating, but her obesity embarrasses Tom so much that he can't bring himself to tell his co-workers about his new love. When they find out, their reactions are extreme. Jeannie, an ex-fling of Tom's, is outraged and hurt that Tom could prefer someone so heavy, and thinks he's doing it just to hurt her. Carter, an obnoxious loafer, ridicules Tom's choice. Eventually Carter's words ring in Tom's head as Tom and Helen have to make some difficult choices.

The female characters are rather simplistic types—Jeannie is pretty on the outside but ugly within, while Helen is one of the guys, a free spirit who is happy with her body the way it is. As for the men, Carter revels in being the jerk at work; "I am needy and shallow," he says proudly. He says whatever's on his mind, no matter how repulsive it may seem. Yet Carter's spite is tempered with concern; he seems to want the best for Tom, even if he phrases that concern in a juvenile and profane way. As for Tom, he's in a constant state of denial—he denies the relationship exists, then he denies that he has any concerns about the relationship. Eventually, something—or someone—has to break.

Paul Felder has all the best lines as Carter, and he makes the most of them. Tom can't keep Carter from butting into his life, and it's no wonder—Felder is so entertaining that he's impossible to ignore. Ed Renninger captures all of Tom's conflicted emotions nicely. Melissa Joy Hart brings a lot of warmth and intelligence to the role of Helen. Hart and Renninger have terrific chemistry, and one never doubts their mutual attraction for a moment. As Jeannie, Erin Mulgrew seems a step or two behind her co-stars, rarely conveying the joy in performing that the other actors do—but then again, she has the thinnest role (in more ways than one).

Maura Roche has provided an efficient, no-nonsense set design, which matches the production's tone well. These characters say what they mean, and in this 90-minute production, little feels wasted. Fat Pig is troubling and thought-provoking—and, in this production, very effective.

Fat Pig runs through May 1, 2010 and is presented by Theatre Horizon at the Centre Theater, 208 DeKalb Street, Norristown, Pa. Ticket prices range from $18 to $28 and may be purchased by calling the box office at 610-283-2230, or online at www.theatrehorizon.org.


If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
Steve Pacek and David Raphaely
Photo: Mark Garvin
There's not nearly as much to ponder in the Arden Theatre's production of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Kids will get a lot of laughs out of this high-spirited production, and grownups will get a kick out of the skill with which it's executed.

Adapted by Jody Davidson from the Laura Numeroff/Felicia Bond children's book, it's all about a mouse with a talent for causing trouble, and a boy who tries (without much success) to control him. What little plot there is serves as merely an excuse for a series of comedy routines, but the two-person cast performs those routines with a stunningly high level of skill. As the mouse, Steve Pacek has a real flair for slapstick. Pacek's encounter with a mirror is a variation on one of the Marx Brothers' most famous skits, but director Whit MacLaughlin has staged it with a lot of invention (plus some technology that the Marxes never got to use). David Raphaely plays the boy, and he's more than just an excellent straight man; he gets to show off his own talent for physical comedy. The two actors are greatly aided by David P. Gordon's outlandishly exaggerated set and the clever music and video design by Jorge Cousineau.

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie doesn't have any big lessons to impart, but parents won't mind. They'll probably be laughing almost as hard as their kids when they see this astonishingly creative production.

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie runs through June 13, 2010 at the Arden Theatre Company, 40 North Second Street. Ticket prices range from $16 to $32 (with group discounts available) and may be purchased by calling the Arden Box Office at 215-922-1122, online at www.ardentheatre.org or in person at the box office.


-- Tim Dunleavy



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