‘Fat Pig’ challenges social standards in romance

Main character Tom, played by Jimmy Haynie, eats a meal with his love interest Helen, played by Arium Andrews during the play "Fat Pig" in the Dennis & Cheryl Woods Theatre. (Miguel A. Gastelum/University Theatre)

After its off-Broadway debut 15 years ago, “Fat Pig” finally made its Fresno State’s theater department debut. 

“Fat Pig” provides commentary on fatphobia, highlighting the pressures one feels to abide by  societal norms that emphasize skinny as the proper way to inhabit the world. Brad Myers, director of “Fat Pig,” espoused that this was one of the reasons it is still a relevant play today.

“One of the most obvious themes of the play is the notion of fat shaming, and I know that we have evolved somewhat on political correctness, but I don’t think that political correctness has totally minimized fat shaming in our culture today,” Myers said.

The male lead, Tom, is played by Jimmy Haynie, who falls in love with an overweight woman named Helen, played by Arium Andrews. Throughout the play, Tom remains conflicted by his feelings toward Helen and the judgements of his colleagues and friends, who berate him for loving a fat woman.

The play ends with an ultimate choice: whether Tom will buckle under the expectations of his friends or stay true to his heart and continue dating Helen.

“I don’t want to agree with Tom and his ultimate decision, but I do,” Haynie said. “I see myself in him a lot. He is very indecisive and he is a nice guy, but he doesn’t really know what to do because he is a people pleaser. He just wants to be liked.”

Tom, Carter and Jeannie all work for the same business where Tom serves as a successful corporate leader. When Tom meets Helen, he keeps her identity a secret from his friends because he is embarrassed to admit that he is dating a woman who strays from societal standards of beauty. This embarrassment is also compounded by the fact that Tom had been dating Jeannie. 

“I call Tom’s little office group his tribe, and he is breaking the rules of his tribe by not dating someone who adheres to their standards of beauty,” Myers said.

Throughout the play, Carter, Tom’s best friend, and Jeannie make fun of Helen for being fat. They call her demeaning names and comment on how much she eats. 

Andrews, the actress who plays Helen, said the character resonates with her in a very personal way with the experiences that she herself has been through in her life.

“I wanted to play Helen because I felt like this was a character I could really relate to, not because just being a plus-sized woman, but being a woman in general,” Andrews said. “A lot of the comments that are made toward Helen in the play are things I can relate to, so I felt she was a character that I really connected with.”

Haynie, a close friend of Andrews, said it was hard to say and hear things about Andrews’ character because of how personal the topic is. As friends, however, the two were able to separate what harsh things happened on stage with their real-life friendship.

Myers, Haynie and Andrews were all excited to participate in a play written by Neil LaBute. As a playwright, LaBute has been labeled as risqué and controversial. 

“Neil LaBute doesn’t write plays depicting the world as he thinks it should be,” Myers said. “He writes plays that present the world as he believes it to be. I think he holds up a very, very harsh mirror to the audience.”

The play, written in 2004, was revolutionary as it reflected with prejudices people had held toward fat people in society. That being said, I do not believe the same potency can be said for the play today. It does not handle the idea of fatphobia or body shaming in a manner that activists today would deem acceptable. 

Between Helen offering to have fat reduction surgery for Tom to Jeannie proclaiming she would take Tom back even though he had treated her so horribly, the play does not reflect present day standards for women’s rights or self-acceptance of one’s body. 

Although the actors embodied each character perfectly, the play itself did not move me to reflect on my prejudices and question the strength of my convictions, but rather to recognize the wave of change that has quickly made the message of this play dated. 

The acting and directions were phenomenal, allowing audience members to connect to the story and the characters. Even though some characters proved to be mean and horrible people, the actors effortlessly depicted each expertly. 

I would, however, suffice to say that LaBute’s revolutionary work in “Fat Pig” is not as moving today as it was in 2004.

‘Fat Pig’ will continue play showings from Nov. 5 through Nov. 9 at 7:30 p.m. in the Dennis & Cheryl Woods Theatre at the Speech Arts Building.

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