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Cow. Slob. Pig. How many insults can you hear before you have to stand up and defend the woman you love? Tom faces just that question when he falls for Helen, a bright, funny, sexy young woman who happens to be plus sized-and then some. Forced to explain his new relationship to his shallow (although shockingly funny) friends, finally he comes to terms with his own preconceptions of the importance of conventional good looks. Neil LaBute's sharply drawn play not only critiques our slavish adherence to Hollywood ideals of beauty but boldy questions our own ability to change what we dislike about ourselves. Neil LaButeis a critically acclaimed writer-director for both the stage and screen. His works include the stage dramasThe Distance from Hereandbash: latterday playsand the filmsIn the Company of Men,Your Friends and Neighbors,Nurse Betty, andPossession, as well as the play and film adaptation ofThe Shape of Things. How many insults can you hear before you have to stand up and defend the woman you love? Tom faces just that question when he falls for Helen, a bright, funny, sexy young woman who happens to be plus-sizedand then some. Forced to explain his new relationship to his shallow (although shockingly funny) friends, Tom finally comes to terms with his own preconceptions of the importance of conventional good looks. Thus LaBute's sharply drawn play not only critiques our slavish adherence to Hollywood ideals of beauty but boldly questions our own ability to change what we dislike about ourselves. "LaBute [is] the dark shining star of stage and film morality."Linda Winer,Newsday "LaBute [is] the dark shining star of stage and film morality."Linda Winer,Newsday "[LaBute's] view of modern men and women is unsparing . . . [He] is holding up a pitiless mirror to ourselves. We may not like what we see, but we can't deny thatif only in some dark corner of our soulsit is there."Jacques Le Sourd,The Journal News(White Plains, New York) "LaBute [is] our American Aesop, a mad moral fabulist serving stiff tonic for our country's sin-sick souls."John Istel,American Theatre "There is no playwright on the planet these days who is writing better than Neil LaBute."John Lahr,The New Yorker
Neil LaBute is a critically acclaimed writer-director for both the stage and screen. His works include the plays The Distance from Here and bash: latterday plays and the films In the Company of Men, Your Friends and Neighbors, Nurse Betty, and Possession, as well as the play and film adaptation of The Shape of Things.
Table of Contents
"That First Meeting with Her"
A WOMAN in a crowded restaurant, standing at one of those tall tables. A bunch of food in front of her, and she is quietly eating it. By the way, she's a plus size. Very.
After a moment, a MAN enters, juggling a lunch tray. He looks around, then moves toward her.
MAN ... pretty big.
WOMAN Excuse me?
MAN I'm sorry, I was just sort of, you know, speaking out loud. Pretty big in here. That's what I was saying ...
WOMAN Oh. Right.
MAN Lots of room for, you know, people.
WOMAN Yes. It's popular.
The MAN looks around, trying to see if there's a spot for him yet.
WOMAN You can eat here if you want.
MAN No, I don't need to, umm ...
MAN I dunno, I hadn't really thought the rest of that one through! Ahh, "intrude," I guess.
WOMAN You're not. I'll make some room for you.
MAN You sure?
WOMAN Of course.
She stares at him a minute, then slides some of her food to one side, allowing him a space if he wants it.
WOMAN I thought you meant me. Before.
MAN I'm sorry?
WOMAN When you said that, "pretty big," I thought you were saying that to me. About me.
MAN Oh, no, God, no! I wouldn't ... You did?
WOMAN For a second.
MAN No, that'd be ... you know. Rude.
WOMAN Still ...
MAN I mean, why would I do that? A thing like that? I'm not ...
WOMAN You'd be surprised. People say all kinds of things here.
MAN In this place?
WOMAN No, not just here, this restaurant or anything, I mean in the city.
MAN So ... you mean, people actually ... what? Say things to your face?
WOMAN Of course. All the time.
MAN About what?
She looks over at him without saying anything. Silence.
WOMAN ... My hair color. (Beat.) What do you think?
MAN Oh, I see. (Smiles.) Sure ...
WOMAN It's not a huge deal--I was just mentioning it.
MAN Yeah, but ...
WOMAN You get used to it. I guess they think that--I don't know, after a certain size or whatever ...
MAN Geez, that's hard to ...
WOMAN I shouldn't have all this stuff for lunch, anyway, but I can't help it. I'm hungry.
MAN Sure ... hey, it's lunchtime, right?
MAN I mean, look at me ... look how much chicken they put on my salad!
WOMAN That's not exactly comforting ...
MAN I just meant ... whatever. Sorry.
WOMAN I had three pieces of pizza, and the garlic bread, and a salad. Plus dessert ...
MAN Hey, you know ... It's your ...
WOMAN How does that sentence end?
MAN Badly, I'm sure! Hell, it's your body, you do what you want. That's what I think ...
MAN Of course. I mean ...
WOMAN So, do you really like sprouts or does that only hold true for me? Your little theory there ...
MAN No, I'm just ... I had a really big breakfast, so I'm ...
WOMAN That's a lie.
MAN Ahh, yeah. Yes, it was. You saw through that one ... Damn, you seem pretty good at this!
WOMAN What, the truth?
MAN Yeah, that.
WOMAN I'm not bad, actually ... not too bad at all.
A moment between them; then they both get down to some serious eating.
WOMAN Yes, I'm over at the library. I was at an interview, actually, for a different branch ... that's why I have the, you know, "Miss Kitty" hair today, All dolled up.
The MAN nods and points at a plastic bag on the table.
MAN Ahh, cool I get it. Gunsmoke. You look nice. (Grins.) Yeah, I saw the library bag earlier. Thought maybe you just stopped by there and checked those out, or ...
WOMAN Nope. "I'm not just the president, I'm also a client ..." (Beat.) That one wig commercial? The Hair Club for Men or something ...
MAN Oh, right ... right! (Laughs.) That's funny. Yeah. Who do they think is really gonna fall for that stuff?
WOMAN I dunno! It always looks so cheesy when guys do that ... people should just go with it, you know? I mean, whatever they look like. It's ...
MAN Yeah. I agree. (Points.) That's a lot of videos there.
WOMAN It was a long weekend ...
MAN Right. (Smiles.) So, lemme guess ... When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, probably, ummm ...
WOMAN Wrong. Take a look.
She smiles at him as he reaches over and glances in the bag. Pulls a few out. Library emblem on each case.
MANThe Guns of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare ... Ice Station Zebra?
WOMAN I threw myself a little Alistair MacLean festival.
MAN Huh. Don't get me wrong, because I love that stuff, but ... that's not very "girlie" of you.
WOMAN You're probably just dating the wrong kinds of girls. They share a smile and a chuckle. The MAN reappraises her.
MAN No doubt about that--I can't even call 'em "girls" without getting hit by a lawsuit, so ... (Grins.) You're a librarian?
WOMAN Yeah. Well, we don't really use that term anymore, but, ahh ...
MAN Sure, of course! It's probably, like, "printed-word specialist" or something now, I suppose ...
WOMAN Exactly. (Beat.) They're always coming up with new names for stuff, something to make that person feel better ... a "refuse technician" or what have you.
MAN That's so true ...
WOMAN Right? Problem is, you still find yourself picking shit up off the street, no matter what they call you! I mean ... you know ...
He laughs at this, and she joins in. The MAN studies her.
MAN You have a terrific laugh.
MAN You're welcome. A potty mouth, but a really cute laugh ...
WOMAN That's sweet, thank you! (Laughs.) Now that I'm so self-conscious that I'll never do it again ...
They smile at each other and then don't know what to say next. They decide to take bites of their meals instead.
WOMAN How's that spinach coming along?
MAN Mmmmmmmm ... so darn good.
WOMAN I bet.
MAN Yeah. Yummy.
WOMAN The pizza's terrific here. I come by all the time for it ...
MAN I'll bet. (Looks over at her.) I just mean ... you know. If it's so good, I would understand. That. (Beat.) Please-help-me.
WOMAN I get what you meant.
WOMAN You shouldn't be so nervous ... I mean, if we're gonna start dating.
WOMAN I'm kidding.
MAN Oh, right. Got it. Little slow!
They laugh together. He looks around, self-consciously.
WOMAN I'm sorry. You should've seen your face ...
MAN What? No ...
WOMAN I thought you were gonna choke on your avocado there ...
MAN That's not true, come on ...
WOMAN Pretty close.
MAN No, that's not ... why would you say that? You just caught me off guard is all. Seriously.
WOMAN Anyway, I was just playing. Big people are jolly, remember?
MAN Ummm-hmmm ...
WOMAN It's one of our best qualities.
MAN Well, at least you've got one.
WOMAN And you don't?
MAN Ahhh ... open for debate.
MAN I mean ... you know, if I really had to come up with one, for, say, the big guy upstairs or whatever, I'd probably do something like "does not run with scissors" or one of those. "Plays well with others."
WOMAN Really? Handsome guy like you and that's all you're good for ... to look at?
MAN Pretty much.
WOMAN Good to know. (Opens a pudding.) You want one?
MAN Nah, I shouldn't ...
MAN Excellent question. Okay.
He takes a tub of rice pudding from her and digs in.
MAN Mmmmmmm ... wonderful. Haven't done that in ages.
MAN Enjoyed myself. Like that. Put something in my mouth without reading the back label like some Bible scholar ...
He gives an example--holding the pudding up to the light as if it was an antiquity and squinting at it. Examining it from all angles. This makes her laugh again. A lot.
MAN All right, okay, we're gonna have to ask you to leave ... You're actually enjoying yourself during the workweek.
WOMAN Right! Sorry ...
MAN No, I told you, I love your laugh. It's okay.
WOMAN Thanks. Again.
MAN You're welcome ...
WOMAN So ... no other good qualities, huh?
MAN Ahhhhh, I suppose. Faithful friend and co-worker, dependable, takes directions well.
WOMAN What about good lover? Not on the list?
The MAN stares at her, glances around. She keeps looking right at him.
MAN That's very direct ...
WOMAN Librarians are funny people.
MAN I guess ... I shouldn't've let my card lapse!
WOMAN No, look what you've been missing.
MAN Ummm ... I'm okay. I mean, no reports of absolute dissatisfaction, but I don't think I'm, like, Valentino or anything.
WOMAN You mean the movie guy? The Sheik or whatever?
MAN Yep. Wasn't he like this big Latin lover or something?
WOMAN I guess that was the story ... He died really unhappy, though. I've read his biography.
MAN One of the perks of the job ...
WOMAN Right! I've readjust about every biography in the place, actually. Real people interest me. I don't really have much time for fiction. "Fiction is for the weak and faint of heart." Somebody said that. A Frenchman, I think.
MAN Cool ...
WOMAN Anyway, you don't have to answer the question. It was rude.
MAN No, I ... I mean, I sort of did.
WOMAN And you're what? Just okay?
MAN Something like that ... I do fine. Wow. I've never ... been asked that before. In that way.
MAN Not at lunch, anyhow! (Beat.) It's kind of invigorating, actually. You seem like a really ... I don't know. An interesting person, I guess.
They laugh together again. Really enjoying themselves.
WOMAN You should swing by the library sometime. See what you've been missing ...
MAN Yeah. (Beat.) Listen, I'm ... I need to get back to the office. Downtown. So I should finish up my, ahh ... WOMAN All right. Sorry if I was ...
MAN No, no, it was ... but could we ... I dunno what I'm asking here. Should we see each other again?
MAN I dunno ... I mean, I'm just, it'd be good, I think. You seem really nice and I'm ... what can I say, I'm just asking ... sort of outta the blue. So, could we? (Beat.) I'm not trying to pick you up or anything, I just ...
WOMAN Too bad. (Smiles.) Yes. We should.
MAN For lunch? Or, ummm, dinner ... ?
WOMAN I don't only eat. I can be coaxed into doing other stuff, too ...
MAN Of course! I didn't mean ...
WOMAN I know. It's a joke.
MAN Right, sure ... I'm really striking out on the humor part here.
WOMAN You're doing fine ... (Beat.) So when?
WOMAN How about Friday? I'm good for Fridays, my day off.
MAN Ummm, yeah. Evening.
She reaches over and takes a pen out of his shirt pocket and writes her number down on the side of a napkin.
WOMAN Now when you wipe your mouth you'll think of me ...
MAN Good plan. (Beat.) So, okay, library lady, I'll call you ...
WOMAN Helen. My name's Helen.
MAN As in "of Troy"? (Groans.) That was so lame, sorry ...
HELEN Right, the thousand ships and all. But that was just so they could carry me back ...
He stands there, thinking about this. Doesn't get it.
HELEN ... because it would take that many to lift me ... Don't worry about it.
MAN Oh, I see. (Laughs.) I got it!
HELEN Yeah. Just trying to be cute.
MAN No, yes, I get it now ... but you shouldn't do that, though. Make fun of yourself so much.
HELEN Why not?
MAN Ummmmmm ... I'm sure there's a very good reason. I'll get back to you.
HELEN You do that. You've got the number there ...
MAN Right. I'll call you. And I'm Tom, by the way.
HELEN I'll see you. Tom.
She wanders off with her tray and her bag. TOM stands alone. After a moment, she returns. Walks right up to him and gets close.
HELEN So, look, I figure there's every reason why I'll never hear from you again, and that's why I came back here, just to say that I don't do this, come after guys or anything, not like some regular habit or whatever, so I thought you should know that. I think you're really cute and nice and that sort of thing ... you might have a girlfriend already or not be attracted to me, I would just totally understand that, I would, but I really do hope you call me. Just even to talk on the phone would be fine, because I'd like that, if we were only these phone buddies ... I think I would. Just don't be afraid, Tom, I guess that's why I came back here, to say that. Please do not let yourself be afraid of me or of taking some kind of blind chance, or what people think ... because this could be so great.
She smiles at him and does what she promised: wanders out of the joint. He watches her go, waves when she nears the door.
TOM goes back to eating the pudding and then looks up, off in the direction that she left. He slowly folds the napkin up and pockets it.