Monday, May 14, 2007

Fat Pig reviewed in LATimes

There's an interesting review of Neil LaBute's Fat Pig at the Geffen in today's LATimes. It brings up a lot of things about how polarizing LaBute is and how misperceived he is as a writer (at least in Charlotte Stoudt's opinion, anyway).

I'll admit to not being a fan, and although I can occasionally get myself worked up about the nastiness of the worldview he communicates, that's not really why I've never taken to him. I'm not convinced he's a misogynist and I don't really mind that he's unafraid to expose his characters' vanities and shallow selfishness. I just think the moralism at the heart of a lot of what I've seen of his work is conservative and simplistic.

I must say I'm no expert; the last play I read or saw of his was The Mercy Seat, which I read precisely to confirm that I don't much care for his writing. At the time the play had gotten so much buzz as a raw, unflinching 9/11 response that I couldn't help myself. The questions it asks are interesting, but I remember thinking it had structural problems and was kind of repetitive. I remember thinking it not terribly deep, either, which might've had something to do with the need to respond quickly to the events of 9/11. Or exploit them. I'm not sure what he was doing there. Regardless, my desire to confirm my suspicions was satisfied, and I haven't looked back.

Maybe that's not fair, though. Maybe I've missed out on the one LaBute play that will make me understand him in a different light (if any of you can suggest one, let me know in the comments). Still, is it a weakness on my part that I don't wish to engage in work when I feel relatively confident of what kind of ideas are going to be communicated and what my response is going to be?

The Times Charlotte Stoudt seems to think so:
Because LaBute is so good at getting under people's skins, he's accused of being a misanthrope or a misogynist. He's neither (or perhaps no more so than anyone else) and the name-calling just proves he's onto something.
Reading this passage sent me into a rather defensive tailspin. Although I might be more inclined to agree with the "misanthrope" than the "misogynist" label, is my negative reaction to his theater an automatic justification of his work and a dismissal of my critique?

All that said, I must say Fat Pig is one of the first plays by him I've been curious about in some time. I feel this way not only because the New York production gave a big break to a certain badass Arkansas-native actress, but because a theater geek friend of mine said that of all of LaBute's plays, he disliked Fat Pig the least. How's that for a recommendation? I'd see it at the Geffen if the tickets were a little cheaper. Or if Ashlie reprised her role. Maybe I'll go to Barnes & Noble and read it over a Starbucks before putting it back on the shelf, like I did with The Mercy Seat. Aww, those were the (temp) days....

Anyway, my point is just because a writer's a provocateur doesn't automatically mean he's substantive or complex, and just because we don't fall for his provocations doesn't mean don't get or can't take his message.

I'd worry about him reading this, but I would assume he doesn't read blogs because he thinks they're "annoying," that is, when he's not making a case for an all-white Raisin in the Sun. More provocation I'm not really falling for....


Zacki said...

While I understand your take on his work, I must say I have found a few moments of surprise in his work. He does have an interesting way of spinning a story in "Bash: latter day plays." He lets you see the tender side of his charaters, and opens the audience up to two very different views on one situation. It's a startling, if not brutal group of three plays, but the first act is well worth a read. He may be a kind of one note writer, but this one is my favorite of his works. (I must agree, the 9/11 piece was pretty damn bad.)

frank's wild lunch said...

Thanks Zacki, I'll try to check that one out.

Mark said...

I agree with Zack that bash is the best of his plays.

The reason he hates bloggers is that they hate him. One of the funniest and most underreported blogosphere dustups was when he surfed onto Jamespeak and The Mirror Up To Nature and insulted them for having the temerity to criticize his most recent play (the one at the Public with Ed Harriss that I'm blanking on the name of).

frank's wild lunch said...

Yeah, Mark, I did read those posts. They were kind of awesome. They were also why I almost didn't post this, but what the heck.

Mr. LaBute, if you're out there, I'm a 31-year-old secretary/playwright with nary a production under my belt. Feel free to discount my opinion as you see fit. I don't mind, honestly.

h.fitz said...


I knew why I admired you. Not just the Russian Poet look and that You're talented... I needed to say that. Pardon me. But, For your honesty. I too don't care for a single one of his plays. ANY OF THEM!!! The best thing about Mercy Seat in NY was Liev Schreiber. And, will you please explain his recent article on casting in the LA times!!!!???? I take it that's your Raisin in the Sun remark. I've read all of his Plays and I Just, well, Don't dig 'em.