I've seen a lot of theatre in the last couple months, despite the lack of blog entries. Many shows of many kinds, all with something to recommend them. But tonight, I saw a show that has made it onto my Top Ten.
On the drive home, I thought aloud about whether this show deserved Top Ten status. I had a philosophical debate with myself about the merits and pitfalls of even having a top ten list. It's sort of like a musical group's "best of" album: what makes a "best" song or production? If I continue going to theatre, how do I determine which shows stay on the list and which are replaced? Do they have an expiration date? Is it all at the mercy of my capricious memory?
Despite the obvious difficulties, I will keep my list and I have bumped a show in favour of tonight's offering: Fat Pig by Neil LaBute, presented by Mitch and Murray Equity Co-op at Performance Works in Vancouver. And here's why.
First of all, I love the script. It's engaging, timely, and provocative. Like most great art, it takes a specific issue and uncovers its universal signficance. And perhaps most important, it is both outrageously funny and painfully human.
Thankfully, this production does it justice. Well cast, expertly directed, beautifully staged, it leaves little to be desired. I have never seen Lawrence Haegert in anything before but I will definitely watch for him in the future. His performance as Tom was remarkable. His commitment and transparency were complete, yet contained; always natural, never reaching. It is intriguing that he studied at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in Newfoundland, also the training ground for the amazing cast of Tempting Providence and the gifted Stephen Drover (with whom Haegert founded Pound of Flesh Theatre). I must plan a visit to The Rock to see what thespian magic is in the water and to sit at the feet of the masters.
The other actors are also very fine. As Carter, Aaron Craven finds just the right balance of charm and sleaze, surprising us with revelations of insight that ultimately earn our sympathy. Jennifer Mawhinney is fantastic as Jeannie, complementing her flawless body with a flawlessly realized and touchingly vulnerable portrait of the unlikely "other woman". And as Helen, Kathryn Kirkpatrick delivers self-deprecating comments as one who knows their protective power, flirting with Tom and with us until we fall for her. Hard.
Set and costume designer Naomi Sider, and lighting designer Itai Erdal, have created a world that is spare and attractive, the crisp, clean lines an effective counterpoint to the voluptuous excess of the subject.
As a director, I am particularly critical of my own discipline. But Michael Scolar Jr. has created a terrific production in every respect. In addition to drawing lovely performances from his actors, the staging is inventive without being self-conscious, the pacing is spot on, and the comedy and pathos are in perfect balance.
I would have loved to direct this play. I would love to take credit for this production. I would love to see this show again.
For all these reasons, Fat Pig makes my first Top Ten entry of 2009.