Up Close and Uncomfortable with Fat Pig
Artattack's new theater is tiny, with fewer than 50 seats in the entire house (including three in the lobby and the couch and two office chairs onstage). The seating is alley-style, a narrow rectangle of white between two rows of chairs; the action happens in the audience's lap. And since the action in question is a Neil LaBute play—about weight issues, no less—you can understand how the word "discomfort" does most of the work.
Justin C. Lockwood plays Carter, the typical LaBute chauvinist pig/best buddy of the protagonist. (Lockwood is also the production's director.) At the performance I attended, Carter was in the middle of a monologue about his fat mother and how her weight made him uncomfortable as a child, his description of the overweight mother increasing in brutality until a woman in the audience gasped and scolded Carter: "That's your mother." The outburst stole a second from the performance, an uncomfortable pause before Lockwood regained his equilibrium and went on to work the monologue's thorny language and stick the landing.
A less-disciplined theater would leverage the tight space and the material into a shockfest, designed to give the audience queasy stomachs and burning eardrums—but the actors all give dignified performances. Rachel Permann as Helen, the plus-sized woman whom a thin, attractive man falls for, is just about perfect. Her dead-sexy Helen purrs and glows and is seduced by her own newfound ability to seduce. Martyn G. Krouse's Tom, the aforementioned thin man, is a successful businessman convinced of his own niceness. Helen and Tom make out on the couch and get along splendidly, but pressure from Carter and a bitter ex-girlfriend named Jeannie (Lisa Every, punching the psycho button one too many times) makes him question whether he can be seen in public with an overweight woman.
LaBute cuts a weird figure in American playwriting: His work feels more controversial than it really is. Some people loathe him, but he's never inspired the long lines of protest or the calls for censorship you'd expect from a writer who has made a living writing nasty little plays about gender issues. But his female characters are generally three-dimensional, believable women; LaBute reserves his strongest loathing for himself and his own gender.
Artattack's call for "a discussion after each performance with the actors and director" due to "the sensitive nature of this play" is a sop to Seattle's overcautiousness about hurting other people's feelings. And it's an unnecessary one: The people who stuck around for the postplay discussion (less than half of the sold-out house) were less interested in examining their feelings and more interested in the mechanics of putting on a show in such a small space. Lockwood extolled the tiny theater as an artistic choice, saying, "I always want to be doing shows in a space like this." Let's hope that's true: He and his company are very good at throwing theater in our faces.