The Play’s The Thing…Jennifer Jonassen Interviews Director Kym Pappas and Actress Carla Nell

The Play’s The Thing…Jennifer Jonassen Interviews Director Kym Pappas and Actress Carla Nell

by Jennifer Jonassen

When I first moved west from New York, I was fortunate enough to spend some time doing theatre in San Diego. From the bigger professional houses such as the Old Globe and La Jolla Playhouse to the dozens of smaller venues, San Diego is practically teeming with theatrical life!  Two of these theatres (Inner Mission Theatre & Onstage Playhouse) are co-producing  Neil LaBute’s provocative play: Fat Pig  which was first produced Off-Broadway by  MCC theatre (and ironically at my old stomping ground: The Lucille Lortel Theatre where I worked for many years!)

Thanks to the artistry and courage of  these two powerful women, San Diego is getting it’s premiere of this timely and important play. I recently had the chance to chat with director Kym Pappas and her leading lady Carla Nell to hear their perspectives on this controversial production and topic. If you are anywhere near southern California I urge you to see this production. Knowing Kym and Carla, it is certainly worth the gas to get to experience this play.

Jennifer: Tell us a little bit about the play Fat Pig.

Kym: Fat Pig is a love story contaminated by society and all of its definitions of who we are supposed to be and what we want.

Carla: Fat Pig is a play by Neil LaBute that doesn’t kid glove people’s perceptions of Fat People.  Tom and Helen are the central characters and Carter and Jeannie are the work friends who influence or maybe remind Tom that it isn’t ok to date a fat woman..

Jennifer: The title makes me cringe. How does it affect you?

Carla: The title is shocking.  It’s meant to be.  Kym has said that fat is the last accepted prejudice and the title just puts it out there with no apologies.  I think it is a great way to introduce the audience to the unforgiving nature of this play and its take on how society views heavier people.

Kym: I think that the title does exactly what it is supposed to do. It makes you take notice, it makes you question, it makes you pay attention. If even for a split second, when you read the title, you are involved.

Jennifer: What drew you to the play as a director Kym?

Kym: I heard about the play when it opened off Broadway. Initially I was drawn to it because there was a woman like myself cast as the love interest. Generally if you are a woman and an actor and you weigh more then 120 pounds you are cast as the best friend, the sister, the villain, the mother … never the love interest. I suppose it happens once in awhile but it is definitely not the standard, as a matter of fact it is virtually unheard of. I read the play in one sitting and when I was done I threw it across the room. It caused me to have not only an emotional reaction but a physical one as well; at that moment I knew I had to be a part of it somehow.

Jennifer: Carla, what drew you to Fat Pig as an actress?

Carla: Kym brought me the script and after I read it I knew I had to do it.  I was drawn to the honesty of the play..  The character Helen asks Tom repeatedly to be honest with her.  I believe she really wants Tom to feel comfortable with her weight and she carries that burden of his discomfort until it becomes her own.  I wanted to tell that story and I like brutal honest writing.

Jennifer: What has your experience directing it been? Any surprises or challenges?

Kim: The biggest challenge has been the intimacy. And I am not just talking about the physical intimacy. I have been blessed with a group of actors who are all open on an emotional level; we have spent a lot of time talking about our own experiences in relationships, our own experiences in life … in our personal skin. But asking them to sit on stage and go there, to create a space where they can trust themselves and each other with such raw emotion and revelations has been difficult. The most rewarding thing has been seeing this cast follow their instincts, they teach me things about these characters on a daily basis, they do things I never even thought of or expected and I think they’re brilliant.

Jennifer: What has your experience acting in it been?

Carla: Terrifying and it has forced me to face my own prejudices.  I have the best partner onstage in Brendan Cavalier because he doesn’t hold back and there is a comfort level there.  I know I can be vulnerable with him and that was very important to me going into this experience.  I have never been forced to really look at myself as a “fat person” functioning in a society that doesn’t embrace.  In my own life I have been blessed with many friends and family who accept me the way I am.  I’m not sure if Helen has had that same luxury and I am still feeling her out.  Neil LaBute has written her to accept some behaviors in Tom that I might not accept in my own relationships.  Finding those differences and exploring them has been the biggest challenge. Another challenge for me is the love scene between Tom and Helen.  The bedroom scene is very intimate and it is very real and I want it to be raw for the audience.  It is rewarding to be able to just do what you love to do with people like Kym who are there to support you and bring it to life but I think the real reward will be sharing the work we’ve done with audiences.

Jennifer: What do you hope audiences walk away with?

Carla: I’m not sure.  I want to affect people and perhaps encourage people to look at the reasons why heavy people continue to be discriminated against but most of all I want the love story to resonate.  Two people who could share a very happy life together should be able to and it shouldn’t be about having the courage to overcome “odds”.  Helen says she just wants someone to care for her the way she does them, simple.  It really is that simple.

Kym: I would hope that this show affects the audience at their core. This show is brutally honest and it is probably going to piss a lot of people off. It pisses me off! I don’t necessarily like all the characters in this show, I don’t care for what they say or what they do, but I understand them. I see myself and people that I know in all of the characters that LaBute has created here.  I hope that the audience does too.

Jennifer:What would you tell a young girl struggling with body image?

Carla: This is a hard question.  Are there any young girls that don’t struggle with it?  I would tell her to quit looking at images of beauty and to paint her own canvas with all of her favorite colors and to keep adding year after year until she has created a masterpiece of a woman and not just an image.

Kym: There is a brilliant quote by Gwendolyn Brooks, “Each body has its art…”, as a teacher that is what I try to teach every girl … and boy… that comes into my life. How do you move in your own skin? Put the value on who you are as opposed to what you look like. Is your body allowing you to get out of bed in the morning? Can you breathe? Can you express yourself? Then you are lovely. I had a girl once who was talking about the fact that she wished that her eyes weren’t so small. Her eyes! I said, “Can you see out of them?” … yes …” Then they are perfect, as are you.”

EVENT:   Fat Pig by Neil LaBute
DIRECTED BY:   Kym Pappas
PRODUCED BY:   OnStage Playhouse & InnerMission Productions
CAST:   Brendan Cavalier, Jenna Dawsey, Carla Nell, and Ryan Ross

DATES:   September 05 – October 04, 2008
VENUE:   OnStage Playhouse, 291 Third Avenue, Chula Vista, CA

TICKETS:   $15 – general admission, $13 – seniors/students/military, group rates available
RESERVATIONS:   619-422-RSVP (7787)

Photo Credit:  “Fat Pig” Credit: Paul Savage (