On this day two years ago, a friend and I met up in Berkeley to catch FAT PIG at the Aurora Theatre Company. I would not have anticipated that the production would stand out extremely clearly in my theatrical memory banks. Admittedly. this might have been expected with my status as a die-hard LaBute fan, having directed one of his earlier plays, THE SHAPE OF THINGS, in 2005 and met him personally in 2004. But when I’d read FAT PIG a year or two before the production, it had seemed… shallow, and not provocative along the lines of LaBute’s previous material. This Aurora production served as a metro Bay Area premiere, though the title had run at Sonoma State University earlier in 2009.
The reality of this particular production was devastatingly honest. I found myself captivated by the story (summarized in the SF Chronicle review) as if I was experiencing it for the first time. The director, Barbara Damashek, chose to elevate the emotional realism and tone down the cynicism, something that I (as a director) had also sought to achieve with my version of THE SHAPE OF THINGS. In particular, Jud Williford’s complex performance as Tom, the leading man of the show, skillfully embodied the personal and societal dilemma at the heart of the story. I clearly recall the intensity of the final scene, where I knew that a revelation was coming but again felt the force of it as if hearing it for the first time. Afterwards, I was intrigued to read that Liliane Klein, who portrayed the leading role of Helen, has East Coast roots and residency and had previously portrayed the same role at SpeakEasy Stages in Boston. Both her and Williford were (very deservedly) nominated for BATCC awards for the production – Klein returned to SF for the ceremony which I also attended – though only Williford won.
I re-visited the play just under a year later for a production at the (sadly) now defunct Sonoma County Repertory Theater. I’m sorry to see, in Googling it, that this production seems to have not receive a published review. It was a different experience for me, where I personally knew two of the actors, the director, and two members of the design team. For me, the pace and tone of this version proved moderately problematic, as it (in my opinion) did not focus on the emotional intensity and personal affect that was so notable at the Aurora. Nonetheless, I was pleased to see my friend Jen Stukey, in the leading role of Helen, immerse herself in the part with clarity and admirable energy.
FAT PIG is due for an upcoming Broadway revival – dates t0 be determined – with LaBute himself directing. I’ll be curious to hear if it gets the green light, and what comes of it.