nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
March 5, 2006
The word "fuck," or a colorful variant thereof, is uttered some 139 times in Fatboy; in a 75-minute play, that amounts to nearly two fucks per minute.
I mention this not to be prurient, but merely to point out that Fatboy is a profane play, with neither manners nor subtlety. It means to offend, and it's testament to playwright-director John Clancy's mastery of his art that the repetition is aggressively and meaningfully assaulting rather than merely numbing. Using a technique that Alfred Jarry—whose Ubu plays are source and inspiration for Fatboy—appropriated from three-year-olds saying "poopy" or the like, the play does just what the three-year-old intends: it gets our attention. Fatboy is very entertaining in its grotesquely scatological way, but it's also precisely pointed, and not just a little bit scary.
Fatboy, the title character, is a glutton. The fattest, graspingest, awfulest glutton ever. Convinced that he deserves whatever he wants, he takes what he wants; ordinary scruples against stealing or killing just don't apply. He's awesomely gross in his greed and, as he progresses in the play's three acts from lowlife to prisoner to king, his uncanny ability to steamroll everyone in his path just gets more and more worrisome.
Fatboy's wife is called Fudgie, and I lied a minute ago, for perhaps it is she who is the graspingest, awfulest glutton ever. (She is not, however, fat.) She says, "Others should willingly, instinctively, give all they have to the fat man and me or they should be unmade." And she means this.
During the course of the play, we observe Fatboy and Fudgie in their home, where they bicker and quarrel like (as the press materials aptly have it) a live-action Punch and Judy, and where Fudgie rents out Fatboy's study to a handsome boarder who happens to be a professional assassin; in a courtroom, where they bicker and quarrel and where Fatboy subverts a trial overseen by a corrupt judge and a prosecutor whom Fudgie easily seduces; and in their royal palace, where they bicker and quarrel and Fatboy eventually orders his slave to destroy every living thing on Earth so as not to compromise his legacy.
In between these scenes, which play like, I don't know, Monty Python on speed with no censorial hand in sight, Fatboy and Fudgie appear before the toy-theatre-like proscenium that frames the set and appeal directly to the audience for their understanding and empathy. (This part plays like Brecht on speed.) In the end, Fatboy delivers an impassioned plea for the audience's continued apathy and willingness to allow leaders to destroy their and the planet's well-being, just in case the point hasn't quite been hammered home.
It's not just compelling, it's spooky: Fatboy is a play about laughing all the way to our mass destruction. Where Jarry was a kid poking fun at the establishment, Clancy is an authentic revolutionary poking and prodding at institutions theatrical and political in hopes of making his audience jump out of their comfort zone.
Clancy's staging is deftly economical and the design—Kelly Hanson's splendidly cheesy sets, Michael Oberle's exaggerated costumes that are half-circus and half-Greek comedy, and Eric Southern's effective lighting—suits the piece perfectly. The actors are terrific, making Clancy's larger-than-life characters even larger than that. Dave Calvitto and Jody Lambert are grand as second bananas (Calvitto's comic timing remains pretty much unparalleled as far as I'm concerned); Matt Oberg evokes laughter and an appropriate pathos as boarder, prosecutor, and slave; and Nancy Walsh is commandingly terrifying as Fudgie. At the center of it all is Del Pentecost in an epic and memorable performance as Fatboy, funny and horrible.
If words like the one I mentioned in the first paragraph offend you, then of course you don't have to see Fatboy, but in fact you're likely its target audience. In the end, as Lenny Bruce used to say, it's not the words that are obscene but rather the actions committed in the name of this or that cause. Fatboy is a loud and ornery wakeup call of a comedy; a mirror held up to an audience and then smashed with a hammer, with shards flying everywhere.