Pacific University's production opens Thursday in Forest Grove and will likely be controversial.

COURTESY PHOTO: REBECCA ALLEN - Tom, one of the leading roles in 'Fat Pig,' receives harsh criticism about his new relationship from his friends.Conversation between Tom and Helen flows naturally. The two are comfortable around each other. They enjoy spending time together. They love each other.

There's only one problem: Helen is fat.

Pacific University Theatre's production of "Fat Pig" explores the effect of society's beauty standards on the most intimate relationships. The production runs Thursday, Feb. 8, through Sunday, Feb. 11.

After sharing a café table, Tom is surprised by his attraction to Helen, a confident, self-assured plus-size woman. The two begin to date and fall in love.

While Helen is comfortable in her own skin, Tom "can't walk down the street with this woman on his arm with his head held high," said Debbie Lamedman, the director of the play. "He's more sensitive about her size than she is."

So the two date in secret.

The scenes of the two falling in love are very sweet, making the juxtaposing scenes of ridicule and doubt all the more crushing.

While the private relationship between the two of them is beautiful, Tom, aware of his limitations, tries to decide how to move forward.

"He starts to feel the pressure from society and coworkers," Lamedman said.

COURTESY PHOTO: REBECCA ALLEN - While Tom and Helen are happy together, the two have to decide whether their relationship can withstand societal pressure. Tom's officemate and friend, Carter, encourages him to end the relationship, telling him he'll waste the best years of his life if he spends it with a plus-size woman. Carter's comments are the opposite of "body positive," said Lamedman.

Tom's other coworker, a woman Tom used to date who is angry about his new relationship, also doesn't hold back on her comments.

The play begs the question: "Why are they so threatened their friend is dating someone who doesn't fit the conventional standard of beauty?"

Lamedman hopes people who see the play will discuss this question and many others after the show. After Thursday's performance, she'll host a question-and-answer session.

"I guarantee the play will make the majority of people uncomfortable in some way," Lamedman said. "People will get riled up by some of the stuff in this show."

The work's author Neil LaBute often explores themes related to society's influence on gender, sex, relationships and power.

"The author is known for his crude and blunt writing," Lamedman said. "He's bold enough to know that people will hate what he's writing but they can't deny the honesty."

Even with only four characters, "we are all sort of represented up there in some way," Lamedman said.

The play is symbolic for relationships of all kinds that meet criticism: Same-sex, inter-racial, multicultural and those of mixed religions, for example.

COURTESY PHOTO: REBECCA ALLEN - The first half of the play is sweet and romantic as the two leading characters fall in love."There's real love there," Lamedman said. "But it is strong enough for all the criticism?"

"Fat Pig" stars Pacific University student-actors Jenna Cady, Larry Jensen, Elliot Lorenc and Phoebe Whittington. Scenic and lighting design by Assistant Professor Tal Sanders and costume design by staff member Melissa Heller solidify the look and feel of the 2004 setting.

Curtain rises at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 8, through Saturday, Feb. 10, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 11.

General admission is $8. Tickets can be purchased in advance at An audience question-and-answer session with the director and cast will take place after Thursday's opening night performance.

By Stephanie Haugen
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times
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