Neil LaBute is at it again. As has become clear from films such as In the Company of Men and plays such as The Shape of Things and Autobahn, both of which have been staged in Austin this year, no one does in-your-face like LaBute. Now, he's getting up in our grill with a drama that challenges our prejudice against the heavy-set and doing so with one of those phrases that carries the power of a roundhouse punch: "fat pig." Taking on the subject of weight shows some real guts, and using the porcine phrase as a title shows even more, but to present such a play as your premiere production well, you gotta have tremendous intestinal fortitude for that. So consider the Vestige Group, which debuts on the local scene this week with a production of LaBute's Fat Pig, a gutsy bunch.
"We formed our company through Craigslist," says Susie Gidseg, both the director of the show and a Vestige co-artistic director along with Jen Brown. "Jen and I met in the theatre department at OU. She moved here a year-and-a-half ago, and I followed when I graduated, and we decided we must have a company and we must do it now. So we put an ad on Craigslist looking for theatre artists and had applicants send us their résumés. We gave them questionnaires, and we were very selective. I wouldn't say that everyone was extremely qualified. For instance, there were some people who did two plays and decided they wanted to be a lighting designer. But we were looking for people who had been out there and done it, like our technical director, who started out as an actor and was a Samuel French award winner. We just had to find the people who were the best fit with us. We had around 30 applicants, and we got it down to five other people and ourselves. And we had a meeting at Central Market and said, 'Look, you'll have to trust us. Even though we're young, we've done a lot, we've been around the block, we fight hard, so trust us.' And they did."
Despite its disparaging title, this isn't your typical LaBute play, which frequently features irredeemable people abusing one another in ways that, while often humorous, are appallingly inhumane. "You want these people to be together," Gidseg says of Fat Pig's protagonists: Tom, a regular kind of guy who has recently broken up with a beautiful woman, and Helen, the woman dismissed with the titular insult. "You buy it. And it's funny, and there's some romance, and there's people rolling around on the floor. It's definitely nice. I hate the word 'nice,' but these characters are really nice, and you're rooting for them."
Avoiding making light of the title is difficult, and in a way that's kind of the point. "Helen makes fun of herself all the time," says Gidseg, "makes herself into a joke. And how many of us haven't done that? But still, you feel the need to whisper the title. I contacted a group of plus-sized women, told them about the play, and said, 'You should come out because we're trying to spread the word.' And they were really offended by the title. Whatever it is, it's going to get a reaction from somebody."
Vestige is hoping it gets a reaction from you, so if any of this piques your interest, get your tickets now, as the company is offering the play for three performances only.
Fat Pig runs June 30-July 2, Friday and Saturday, 8pm, Sunday, 3pm, at the Dougherty Arts Center, 1110 Barton Springs Rd. For more information, call 538-4769 or visit www.vestigegroup.org.