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Family Off Course

fat men
Photo Michael Selic

Cheering Section: Worried parents Jennifer York and Gary S. Martinez spy on son Don Hiatt and too-friendly cheerleader Kimy Martinez in "Fat Men in Skirts."

'Fat Men in Skirts' uses cannibalism as therapy

By Heather Zimmerman

The squeemish playgoer might want to avoid Fat Men in Skirts, a new City Lights Theater Company show with a fair amount of gore. For those with cast-iron stomachs, though, playwright Nicky Silver's Fat Men in Skirts offers an evening of oddly compelling entertainment. The play takes a darkly humorous look at the ways in which families fracture, even managing to explore some new detours in the well-worn territory of "How our parents screwed us up."

In Act One, Phyllis Hogan (Jennifer York) and her son, Bishop (Don Hiatt), are stranded on a desert island after a crash that killed everyone else on board their plane. Their lengthy isolation on the island--a bizarre mixture of Lord of the Flies and an industrial-strength Oedipal complex--leads eventually to cannibalism and a most unusual coming of age for Bishop. Meanwhile, Phyllis' husband and Bishop's father, Howard Hogan (Gary S. Martinez), a self-absorbed filmmaker, dallies with his mistress while dutifully hoping for the safety of his wife and son.

In Act Two, mother and son, after several years of acclimatizing in all the wrong ways to their second home, are rescued. Significantly affected by their experiences, they return to the mainland, only to be plunged into a dysfunctional family reunion that is almost worse than their previous ordeal.

None of the performers shrinks from the emotional beatings the characters take as they begin to probe their strained family bonds. York and Hiatt have a wonderfully disturbing chemistry that adds to both the comedy and the horror of their situation. Likewise, as increasingly estranged husband and wife, Gary S. Martinez and York share some explosive scenes that vacillate between depressing and hilarious.

Kimy Martinez plays Howard's spacey mistress, Pam, as pliable and blank as comedy will allow--and gets away with it--while keeping the character reasonably sympathetic and not a figure of ridicule. In a second role as Popo Martin, a schizophrenic cheerleader, she is less successful, with excessive manic-optimism leading to several bouts of near-hyperventilation.

Similarly, Hiatt's comic talents falter as he overplays Bishop's grating tendencies as a child, but his performance takes on a powerful and frightening edge when Bishop is transformed from a bookish schoolboy to a vicious young man who doesn't hesitate to indulge his most primitive instincts.

With controversial themes and demanding roles aplenty in Fat Men in Skirts, City Lights has made a bold but rewarding choice. Although stomaching the characters' actions may prove a challenge, it's far easier than realization that these folks--while messed up and sometimes despicable to the extreme--are, for the most part, simply highly exaggerated representations of pure human nature.

Fat Men in Skirts plays Thursday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 7pm (with matinees March 10 and 17 at 2) at City Lights Theater, 529 S. Second St., San Jose, through March 23. Tickets are $10-$13.50. (408/295-4200)

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From the Mar. 7-13, 1996 issue of Metro

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