After nearly closing three weeks ago, Buffalo Street Books, alive again thanks to the financial target it recently reached, will host a Readers’ Theater production of Fat Pig this upcoming weekend. Three instructors from The Actors Workshop will perform the play, a critically acclaimed off-Broadway script written by Neil LaBute.
In Fat Pig, LaBute attempts to critique popular culture’s shallow infatuation with image and its influence on our preferences in dating. Tom, the main character (played by Masa Gibson), is a conventionally handsome yuppie who falls in love with an overweight woman named Helen (played by Anima Omari). His less morally righteous friends around the office respond with offensive banter. Why would such a good-looking, eligible man go for a fatty?
Reflection upon his choice of woman ultimately ushers Tom through some soul-searching and societal value questioning. Should we always be obsessed with looks when choosing a partner?
The original performance of the play received critical success. New York Times critic Ben Brantley called Fat Pig “the most emotionally engaging and unsettling of Mr. Labute’s plays,” drawing from a list that includes Your Friends & Neighbors, a play featuring Ben Stiller about the sex lives of three suburban couples, and reasons to be pretty, a Tony-nominated story about four working class friends and lovers. As one might notice, Labute seems to have a keen familiarity with the everyday chitchat of love. He brings a misanthropic humor to everyday drama in a way that makes critical statements about society. Jeremy Piven, a.k.a. Ari Gold, appropriately starred in LaBute’s initial production of Fat Pig off Broadway.
What distinguishes this particular performance of the play, however, is the manner in which it will be preformed. The Reader’s Theater of Ithaca specializes in performance readings of both recent and canonical plays. A performance reading is akin to a cold reading — an exercise typically used in auditions, in which the actor has not had time to memorize the script but nevertheless becomes the characters that they are reading. They stand very close to the audience and use few, if any, props.
Said actor Masa Gibson, “This play has a lot of people sitting and standing around talking. In terms of the audience, it helps them focus on what the characters’ are saying as well as their relationships.”
It’s a challenge for actors to be thrown into this sort of play — there are only six rehearsals before the performance — but the style lends itself to the minimalistic, emotional nature of the original script. Masa admitted that the inherent low-level of preparation was more relaxing, but did pose some difficulties.
“It’s easy because I don’t have to memorize all of the lines, and I think you would only be able to do that with certain types of pieces. As far as challenges, I would say that, because we are not fully memorizing, it makes it challenging in forming and keeping that relation with the other actors, because you’re balancing the tension between the work on the page and what you’re fellow actors are giving you, and what you are trying to give them.”
This is not to say that the actors do not do any memorization at all. They still must abide by the basic structure of the plot, which means memorizing plenty of excerpts to keep the play going. The emotional nature of the play, though, occurs in the moment.
All of the actors are confident in their ability to assume the skin of Fat Pig’s still somewhat unfamiliar characters. The spontaneity of this acting arrangement will produce three distinct shows, which may succeed or fail in various degrees, depending on the moments that the actors find themselves in. There’s no doubt, though, that the caliber of the three actors and the comic nature of Fat Pig will make for a worthwhile experience this weekend.
Fat Pig is playing at Buffalo Street Books on Mar. 18 and 19. at 8:30 p.m., and Mar. 20 at 6:30 p.m.
Original Author: Joey Anderson