Fat Men in Skirts
What three items would you bring with you to a desert island? Who would you want to be stranded with on a desert island?
The desert island has long starred in our fantasies. Gilligan’s Island made it seem fun. Lost makes ordinary people heroes. Survivor makes castaways into millionaires.
But wouldn’t most of us, in that situation, become the worst versions of ourselves, animals succumbing to the kill-or-be-killed mentality?
It’s an interesting sociological question to which Nicky Silver’s Fat Men in Skirts offers a horrific answer.
The lights come up on a beach. Phyllis Hogan (Holly Natwora) wanders over the sand in crocodile heels and business attire, carrying a suitcase. The cold, detached, 40-something mother was en route to Italy to meet up with her husband, leaving only Phyllis and her 11-year-old, stuttering, Katharine Hepburn-obsessed son, Bishop (Robert Grant), alive on this desert island.
Phyllis is oddly calm, focusing only on the damage the sand is doing to her shoes, while Bishop whines about being hungry. After dismissively feeding him lipstick, she hands him a knife and instructs him to eat the dead nun from the plane.
Now we’re given insights, through flashbacks, into the Hogans’ lives. Phyllis and her husband, Howard (Lewis Zaumeyer), stopped loving each other years ago. Howard is a philandering filmmaker who, quite unapologetically, makes a habit of sleeping with his starlets—the latest of whom is Pam (Amy Ginder), a ditzy porn star. Howard’s extracurricular interests have always made Bishop an afterthought. Now that he and Phyllis have been gone for five years, Pam’s making her own demands, just in time for his family to be rescued.
By now, Bishop’s stutter is gone, and puberty has set in. He’s fixated on his bulging body, completely obsessed with sex and has a very unhealthy relationship with his mom. That early cannibalism gave birth to some violent tendencies now in full bloom within Bishop, who wants nothing to do with the father he’s now living with.
Meanwhile, Phyllis is a shell of her former self. Unable to face going outside, she sits around all day talking to the shoes that Bishop keeps bringing her by the armload. Then there’s Pam, who won’t stand being kept in the closet much longer. Ultimately, when this powder-keg explodes, it’s grisly and hard to watch.
Director Jim Martin pulled no punches, bravely forcing the audience into some unimaginably disturbing action. But he had great material to work with—Silver’s script is brilliant. He masterfully reveals the fine line between calm and chaos, and how we’re all much more fragile than we believe. By having his characters directly address the audience, they’re almost asking for our understanding, or even our forgiveness. All the while, he manages to make this gruesome scenario sort of … funny.
These roles place extraordinary demands on the actors, particularly Robert Grant. His 11-year-old, pigeon-toed Bishop is somewhat over the top, but as a teen Bishop he’s surprisingly ferocious and, as the play progresses, scary as hell. Natwora is always good, and she really got an opportunity to show off that Katharine Hepburn impression she does so well. But Zaumeyer’s Howard leaves something to be desired. He’s too stiff, too awkward, and not the larger-than-life character he ought to be—especially not opposite the vivacious Ginder.
Bottom line: The Hogan family’s story is not for families, nor for the faint of heart.