Sunday, January 14, 2024


by Ruth Ross

Despite the current climate of incivility—where a political candidate can mock a war hero, a disabled reporter and a woman accuser’s looks—I found myself outraged over the nastiness expressed by two characters in Fat Pig, the black comedy onstage for one weekend only at the Chatham Community Players. In this mordant four-hander, playwright Neil LaBute turns his attention to the reality of physical appearance, to crushing effect.

Fat Pig addresses the dilemma faced by a young man who falls for an overweight, sexy, charming young woman but finds himself worried about what his friends think of his choice. When his best buddy and former girlfriend—both co-workers—discover that his lady love is not très sleek and make cruel, disparaging remarks about her, will he have the guts to defend her and their relationship or will he give in to society’s notions of beauty?

LaBute tackles this controversial subject beautifully, creating characters who may not be conventionally likeable but who are easily recognizable as our own friends and associates. Through natural and often funny dialogue, he examines human weaknesses and forces the audience to face its own preconceived notions of beauty.

Andrew Marr (above, with Tracey Lynn Haskell) does a fine job as Tom, especially in his scenes with Helen. In the delightful pick-up scene, he’s charming and rather bemused by his own interest in this unconventional young woman, and it is his interest that permits the audience to see beyond her exterior to the person who captures his heart. That’s why we want to slam him when he evades his colleagues’ questions, makes up excuses and lies about why they haven’t met Helen and, more importantly, fails to respond to the snide and cruel comments they make when they do find out what she looks like.

These two colleagues are the friends from hell; instead of being supportive, they question his judgment and go out of their way to hurt him. As Carter, Lonny Friedman’s staccato delivery and constant movement are irritatingly appropriate for this bored, looking-for-trouble, obnoxious, vulgar frat boy who talks nonstop (Left, with Marr). In the thankless role of Jeannie, whose nasty comments are motivated by Tom’s supposed “betrayal” of her, Genevieve Istanislau’s harpy delivery aptly drives home the truism that the words “office” and “dating” shouldn’t appear in the same sentence

Tracey Lynn Haskell is especially winning as Helen, getting the character’s self-deprecation just right, without hiding that she’s really vulnerable, despite her seeming confidence about her weight. In the final scene, when Tom reveals his need for his friends’ approval, her face and body language are heart-breaking.

For 90 minutes, Doug McLaughlin’s crisp direction keeps the action moving along at a good clip without making the performance feel rushed. Steve Ruskin’s stage set and props set the scenes for several different venues. The women’s costumes in various combinations of hot pink, black and white clearly unite the two women, despite their different physical appearances. I found it interesting that for the character of Tom, usually played by a slender, handsome male actor, the director has cast Marr, a husky young man who looks rather ordinary, thus driving home his lack of confidence and need for his friends’ approval even more forcefully and poignantly.

Given the national conversation about obesity, especially childhood obesity, along with the plethora of influencers’ Instagram videos so readily available on social media, Fat Pig, on its surface, seems to send the message that size doesn’t count. What LaBute points out here is that while size is important, it shouldn’t be the prime criteria to judge the worth of an individual. After all, the skinny people in this play are the least likeable. It’s our attitudes toward overweight people that need a makeover. Now that would be an interesting television show!

Fat Pig was performed for one weekend only, so you won’t be able to catch a future performance at Chatham Community Players. So, why am I publishing a review of a play you won’t see? Well, I want to alert you to the existence of this 100-year-old (!) company so close to home. They are a real treasure for theater-lovers. You won’t want to miss their upcoming productions  of The Beauty Queen of Lenane (March 1-16), Nine (May 3-18) and Constellations, the second show in their One Weekend Only Series (June 7-9), a fully staged production, not performed script-in-hand.

So mark your calendars and head on over to the Chatham Playhouse, 23 N. Passaic Ave., Chatham, to catch the 2024 offerings of this venerable company.