Rae Ellen’s FAT PIG: a journey in fear and love

Rae Ellen thanks Nicole Arbour for her ‘Dear Fat People’ video in the director’s note for FAT PIG, a small production playing out of Red Sandcastle Theatre this week and next (Nov. 19-28th 2015). I’m not going to tell you about Nicole Arbour because I, frankly, don’t like her, but I will link you to a Jezebel article about what went down.

Helen & Tom 4 - Having A Laugh

FAT PIG is an interesting piece. Written by Neil Labute and first performed in 2004, the play’s purpose still rings as relevant and necessary as ever. It’s a story that everyone should see, experience, and attempt to comprehend – if you can. Katie Messina as Helen is brilliant in her jest and fluidity. She evoked intrigue, empathy, and love in me, and brought me on a journey filled with so much hope it was like I was internet dating all those regal, boyish, financiers again.

Messina and her cast-mates are not to be missed. Erin Boyes (Jeannie), Michael Eisner (Carter) and David Alexander Miller (Tom) were exquisitely cast, embodying their character’s flaws and throwing them right in our faces with extreme and precise faculty. In my life I’ve interacted with a version of each one of these characters, and in no way did I respond the way I wanted the characters in this play to respond. “Just tell her how you feel!” I shouted internally, frustrated and distraught by what I was watching. “How can you be so self-destructive?!”

Selects for Media 2

But FAT PIG isn’t just about the self-destructiveness of Jeannie and Carter. It’s about Helen and Tom. Helen meets Tom – well, actually – Tom meets Helen. Tom works in some big office where suits and high heels are flaunted. Helen is a librarian vying for a new job. Tom’s seen as a player – a catch – a total babe, but he yearns for something more tangible than fancy dinners and consumerist-driven ideals. Helen is happy, hyper aware of the way people look at her and is brash in acceptance and response. She’s intelligent, gorgeous, and she’s got a great sense of humour. Oh, and she’s “big boned” …whatever that means!

When Tom starts to date Helen, pressures from his misogynist office friend Carter and insecure on-again-off-again lover Jeannie really lay his insecurities on the table. When Jeannie tells Tom she hates him I really got a handle on her hatred for herself, a place I’d never gotten to with anyone before; a true projection of emotions for us in the audience to stare at in wonder (and farce). But while Jeannie puts all her energy into humouring us with self-neglect, Carter is the one I really despised. Carter is the epitome of the narcissism and shallow outlook that Tom is trying to overcome.

Selects for Media 4

“We’re just one step away from our worst fear!” Carter says to Tom when trying to tell him he’s got to run with his own kind (his own kind being the yuppie, well-kept, tight-abbed, tight-assed, objectifying, business-class kids) …and not ‘fat girls.’ I really despised Carter for nearly the entire hour, but I quickly realized something about him here. His worst fear is being kind. Being understanding. Being loved. He’s one step away from it all, and so is Tom. But what’s preventing them from being, well, like Helen? What’s preventing them from being vulnerable, self-aware, and happy? It’s this office culture of entitlement, shame, and fear itself.

FAT PIG is layered with commentary on entitlement, shame, and fear. It drags us through the emotions of being and being around people driven by these things (Tom, Carter, and Jeannie), and contrasts them with the person we all long to be – and can be (Helen). It drags us through the reality of the Nicole Arbours, the internet bullies, and the bad parents/teachers/friends we keep because we tell ourselves that we don’t have a choice. It’s easier to stay quiet than to speak up. FAT PIG drags us through our faults that we once had or struggle to discard. It drags us through puddles of imperfection and peer-acceptance. It drags us through the hope of love, and all those times we tried to fit a square peg into a round hole (no puns here, okay?).

Once we experience love – the butterflies, the surprising smiles, the attention of true love – why wouldn’t we want to hold onto it? Why wouldn’t we fight for it? Why wouldn’t we offer to change ourselves if it meant that we could keep it? I am thrilled to say I didn’t settle for a Tom-like equivalent and I sat on the edge of my seat praying Helen didn’t either. My heart wept for her because I could relate in love, hope, and despair. She’s the epitome of beauty in a harsh world, and FAT PIG brings us right into its deep dark lair.

But the truth is there: People like Helen deserve to be with people like Helen and the best thing about this play is that (you can watch it this week and next and) it taught me that we can all be Helens. in fact, I’m working on mine every interaction I get.

Get tix here.

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