Armed with a clean-lined set, an efficient quartet of actors, and seven tightly coiled scenes, Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig takes cool aim at the elephant in the room: our incoherent hostility toward the obese. In the tricky meet-cute, nice yuppie Tom (Jeremy Piven) utters “pretty big” to himself at a lunchtime grazing spot, commenting on its cavernous size. His stray words attract Helen (Ashlie Atkinson), the sweet-faced, plus-size librarian, whom we’ve just uncomfortably observed onstage, pre-showtime, noshing on pizza. (It’s in the nature of Fat Pig that even my own language should be dismantled: Is “sweet-faced” there just to offset “plus-size”?) Their banter, by turns awkward and ardent, blooms into the love that dare not speak its name, at least not to one’s co-workers.
Tom’s perfectly opaque job, with its expense reports and “subsidiary suppliers” from Chicago, suggests a sterile, almost dystopian zone, in contrast to the comfortable cocoon he inhabits with Helen. Atkinson conveys her natural warmth, her use of self-deprecating humor as both allure and defense (“Big people are jolly, remember?”); Piven effortlessly registers not only Tom’s core decency and charm, but his deep ambivalence at going public. Some girls are bigger than others, as the Smiths taught us (Fat Pig has Morrissey’s “You’re the One for Me, Fatty” as an epigraph), but Tom knows that his wiry colleagues will have a field day once they see Helen’s waistline. The instinctively meddling Carter (Andrew McCarthy) spies on Tom at a “dinner thing” with Helen, and goes apoplectic with glee—and fear—upon learning she’s his squeeze. Carter’s shoehorned motivation (Mom was fat) is dramatically pragmatic, but McCarthy gives it all sorts of messy jolts. Jeannie (Keri Russell), Tom’s pencil-skirted ex in accounting, is even more merciless in her humiliation than Carter. A narcissist on a hair trigger, she thinks Tom’s chubby chasing is an attack on her. Significantly, her attacks exhaust vocabulary—beginning with a violent keelhauling and climaxing in a freak-out that’s at once the funniest and scariest moment in a play of constant articulation.