Senior Company’s phantasmagorical “Fat Men in Skirts” fantastic

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

“Fat Men in Skirts,” produced by the Senior Company, and playing this past weekend, was easily the most gruesome, most disgusting, arresting, and brilliantly performed play this semester at Swarthmore. Directed by Janice Im ’06 from the text by Nicky Silver, it details the maturity of one Bishop Hogan (Neal Dandade ’06), a young man with a few problems.

First, his plane crashes, leaving him shipwrecked with his overbearing mother (played with panache by Heather Ylitalo-Ward ’06) for some five years. The only two survivors, they fashion creative food alternatives with the help of fellow passengers. Before the crash, Bishop felt alternately ignored by his famous film director father, Howard (the excellent Nick Malakhow ’05), and pushed by his mother. As the years on the island wear on the two, both begin to go insane. On the island, Bishop’s Katherine Hepburn fixation turns elsewhere, but then again, he loses his stutter.

Meanwhile, his father engages in an extramarital affair with an actress, Pam (Amanda Vacharat ’06), and while his inhibitions remain, his memory of wife and son recedes. Only when the pair returns from exile do the questions get sticky, though, and Bishop’s newly developed culinary taste comes to full fruition. The show is peppered with monologues from each character, and while the motives may be audible, the situations become ever more absurd. Finally, Oedipus nee Bishop finds that to truly find himself, he must do away with others.

Dandade does a superb job as Bishop, leaving the audience at turns delighted and disgusted. He’s a self-contained Greek tragedy, progressing astonishingly from an impatient 11-year old to an adolescent monster. Janice Im takes on the role of director nicely, as she remarks in an interview “I didn’t push for strong emotions, as the actors took on their roles, the emotions came.” The characterization comes complete, and better yet, the actors are able to work together for a sublime finish, taking on laugh lines and death scenes with a real emotional coordination. Amanda Vacharat also has an excellent turn as the psychotic patient Popo Martin in the third act, and gets a few of Silver’s best lines. “I don’t want to smile anymore. My jaw hurts.”

The lighting and set design by Charles Coes ’06, which were intensely important to the play, were technically dazzling yet subtle, always enhancing the drama, especially during the final hospital scene. Also, campy old documentary clips were integrated into the play, providing some relief necessary to such an intensely disconcerting performance. The show played four performances at the LPAC Frear Ensemble Theatre, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

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