Fat Pig

Geffen Playhouse


It’s one of those sweet serendipitous chance meetings at a crowded downtown lunch counter that brings together two young hormonal breeders looking for love in Neil LaBute’s off-Broadway smash Fat Pig, now making its west coast debut at the Geffen Playhouse.


It doesn’t take long for Helen and Tom (Kirsten Vangsness and Scott Wolf) to realize they have a lot in common, including a similar sense of humor that immediately complements each other beautifully. This oddly natural knack for perfect comic timing initially gives Fat Pig the appearance of being an extremely non-LaButian light ’n frothy romantic farce, featuring rapidfire comedic dialogue not altogether unlike the snappy-patter written by that other famous playwright named Neil.

Thankfully, for anyone familiar with other plays by LaBute, there’s some assurance any rampant Simon-izing won’t be going on for long here. After all, this was written by the guy who gave us The Shape of Things, The Distance from Here, bash, and the films In the Company of Men and Nurse Betty, so there’s some guarantee that it won’t take long for the trans-fats to hit the fryer here.

It also doesn’t take long for the obviously smitten Tom to ask his new acquaintance out to dinner, even if: a.] he’s already quasi-dating his coworker Jeannie (Andrea Anders) and b.] Helen is not only the romantic ingénue of Fat Pig, she’s the title character.

No one makes more jokes about her plus-size stature than Helen, who seems more than comfortable with being on the far side of our era’s obsession with thinness, which is in turn something the sheepish Tom finds totally refreshing. Their relationship grows in leaps and bounds, especially after Tom finally manages to reassure Helen that he likes her just the way she is—after all, though she might be confident in herself, us XXL-ers aren’t easily deluded by flattery from others, nor are we big (no pun intended) on trust.

Soon instinct rules and the realization starts to creep in that Helen’s never met any of Tom’s friends and that he either wants to spend their time together sequestered at home or hiding in some dark corner of an out of the way restaurant, so guess what? It dawns on Helen that maybe she’s being too trusting after all. Surpriiiiiiiiiise!


Tom, you see, is of course something of a hypocrite, never quite finding the guts to explain to Jeannie what happened to their own tossed-aside relationship and too concerned for what she and his other coworkers, particularly a caustic Neanderthal asshole named Carter (Chris Pine), would have to say around the water-cooler if they knew his hot new love interest looked like a Before shot on a commercial for LapBand surgery.

As played on Louisa Thompson’s smartly versatile set and under the sure hand of Jo Bonney, who also directed the original New York production, Vangsness gives a remarkable, truly tour-de-force performance, blessedly simple, heartbreakingly touching, and incredibly sexy, above all finding an amazing level of emotional depth lurking below the surface in her pivotal yet rather predictably written role. In a way, the blank canvas of the playwright’s zaftig heroine seems to work for an actor of Vangsness’ caliber; without offering much of a real character arc with which she can work, LaBute has instead given Vangsness plenty of room to rely on her own pitch-perfect instincts.

Anders and Pine are both dynamic as the dastardly coworkers, and Wolf, though relying a bit too often on sitcom quirkiness in his choices rather than delving more honestly into the derivation of Tom’s weaknesses, still eventually finds his sea legs in the crushingly sad final scene, striking right to the heart as a guy who can’t let go of society’s narrow-minded rules.

Beyond the nearly non-stop humor and clever dialogue here, LaBute is exploring our culture’s communal lack of spine when faced with the unique concept of following our own hearts. Fat Pig leaves the viewer thinking about the nature of peer pressure and asks, in our continuously media-hyped contemporary social order, if it’s still possible to think for ourselves and honestly not give a shit about what anyone else thinks of us or our actions.

It was Ayn Rand, whose politics were as odious as her philosophies were brilliant, who once wrote that most people in our world live as “second-handers,” more concerned about what other people around us think about us and how we live and what we’re perceived to be, rather than the more important question: what we really think of ourselves.   

Fat Pig plays through June 17 at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Av., Westwood; for tickets, call 310.208.5454.

TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for ArtsInLA.com. As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a ReviewPlays.com Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing. www.travismichaelholder.com