Tom loves Helen. And why shouldn’t he? She’s smart, pretty and has a great sense of humor. But she’s also fat, and for Tom that just may be a deal breaker. This is the conundrum at the heart of Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig through June 1 at Hollywood’s Hudson Theatre (6541 Santa Monica Boulevard). But is it comedy, dramady or tragedy?
“I think because it has some of the trappings of romance and comedy, people don’t want it to end sadly or be bittersweet. They’re surprised when it does kind of have this realistic jolt at the end,” LaBute said, in a recent interview. “I think this one, quite honestly, plays more like a comedy for almost the entire piece.”
In the current production, Jonathan Bray (The Young and the Restless) plays Tom who works in an office with his ex-girlfriend Jeannie (Kirsten Kollender) and his pal Carter (Nick Stabile). Tom begins an affair with a plus-sized librarian, Helen (Deidra Edwards), who becomes the target of his colleague’s derisive comments, which gives him second thoughts about his new relationship.
Audiences who saw the LA premiere of Fat Pig at the Geffen back in 2007 might notice some new material written for Tom’s ex-girlfriend and co-worker Jeannie. What they won’t see is a whole new scene, as well as a new speech written for the rejected Helen, who now has the last word after Tom finally decides to call it quits. Only LaBute is keeping mum about his revisions, which he’s saving for a Broadway revival that he plans to direct.
“If anything it makes things a little messier,” he says of the new ending. “She doesn’t give him an easy out. She says this stuff is tough and I think we can make it. So we’re left with will they or won’t they. But at least she has a chance to say something.”
Edwards, who plays the pivotal role of Helen, was pivotal off stage as well, raising $18,000 on Kickstarter for the production and bringing in director Alexis Jacknow, LaBute’s assistant on last fall’s LA Theatre Works production of his 2008 play, “Reasons To Be Pretty.
Along with that play and”The Shape of Things” (2001), “Fat Pig” completes LaBute’s trilogy looking at superficiality and the grip it has on many of us. He doesn’t judge characters like Tom for their shortcomings, but leaves it for the audience to decide, illustrating how difficult it is to be a person of conviction. And while Tom and Helen appear to end up in a worse place than where they started, LaBute considers his play a comedy.
“The difference between a comedy and tragedy, at the end of the comedy they got married, and if it was a tragedy, they were all laying dead,” he explains about the tradition dating from Shakespeare to rom-com. “Rules do get made to be broken. That bittersweet ending of Annie Hall is one of the best things in the movie, it’s great. Does that mean it can’t be a romantic comedy cause they don’t get together?”
His upcoming movie, “Dirty Weekend,” breaks a few rules as well, treading lightly between comedy and drama. It’s a character piece starring Alice Eve and Matthew Broderick as colleagues who get delayed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on a business trip. “They go on this whole odyssey,” he explains. “It’s about how little we know about each other, people we work next to for however long.”
He’s currently casting the 1970’s crime-drama, “Geography of Hope,” about a pair of criminals on the lam in Mexico and the women they meet there. Vera Farmiga is on board, and so is Ed Harris, but scheduling will determine whether his partner in crime is LaBute stalwart Aaron Eckhart or Ethan Hawke. Either way, don’t expect a happy ending.
“Overall the rule of people wanting a happy ending does exist,” he concedes, adding, “a lot of my stuff can go one way or another.”