On Neil Labute’s “Fat Pig”

Kirk, Diana and I went tonight to see the new Neil Labute play, “Fat Pig”:

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Before I get into the play itself and the issues it raises, I must share something exciting that happened. While waiting to go in, Neil Labute himself came into the lobby. Diana and I pushed Kirk to introduce himself because Kirk, like Neil, went to BYU and then to our Tisch program. So Kirk did and Neil was incredibly receptive. We also spotted Neil in his theater seat taking notes after the play, and he gave us a wave. So basically Neil Labute, Kirk, Diana and I are all best friends.

Now for the play: this is a tough play. The premise is that Jeremy Piven falls for a fat girl; his best friend (Andrew McCarthy) disapproves and his ex (Keri Russell, from Felicity) is disgusted. The play takes a brutal look not at obesity in America but at how we perceive obesity in America. And the point seems to be that our society’s obsession with weight and nutrition and health is rooted in something ugly and merciless in all of us.

I think the play is incredibly successful in showing how weight functions in power dynamics at the work place, in the bedroom, and out in the world. Many mistake Labute as a sadist who hates his characters; I think he’s a moralist who uses his characters to expose emotional truths. But that’s playtalk, and this is a food site.

I won’t lie and say that I skip merrily from bakery to bakery, from cupcake to cupcake, without some thought as to how it affects my body; as to how my body is perceived and how what I put into it affects how others perceive me. If I wanted to, I suppose, I could eat nothing but health food, spend all day at the gym and look something like Sylvester Stallone by way of Woody Allen. But that’s not in me to do that. Instead, I think there’s a happy medium between gluttony and savage self-denial. Sometimes the balance teeters in one direction, but mostly I try to even things out by eating a salad on a day after eating a big fat steak with bacon. (Ok, I’ve never eaten a steak with bacon but I feel like it drives the point home).

Women, however, worry me. I am worried for women. I do not envy women in America’s weight culture. When Kirstie Alley is on the cover of several major magazines because she blew up and people are buying this and reading it fervently, I worry about our values. More importantly, I worry about our children. I have known many girls (in high school, college, and beyond) with eating disorders. It is not baffling to me how this comes to be. What is baffling is that no one seems to really think it’s a problem. Maybe there’s a sense of “this is the way of the world–the way nature intended it, for women to lure men in with sleek, slender bodies; to set their procreation bells buzzing.” But my response to that is simple. Nature did not, I assure you, intend Lara Flynn Boyle.

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Anyway, I’m sure there are a million things to talk about when it comes to weight in America. This post is murky because it’s not quite a play review, not quite a thesis, not quite an anything. So I’ll conclude with two thoughts: (1) If you live in New York, check out “Fat Pig”; and (2) If you’re Lara Flynn Boyle, go eat something.

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