Nancy Walsh, Matt Oberg, and Del Pentecost in Fatboy
(Photo © John Clancy)
Nancy Walsh, Matt Oberg, and Del Pentecost in Fatboy
(Photo © John Clancy)
Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi, first seen in 1896, has been fair game for revision ever since. Why wouldn't it be? Jarry was mocking tyrants (and their consorts), and the mold for tyrants never gets broken, even if these malevolent figures eventually spend time in spider holes and making noise at their trials. The latest Jarry update is Fatboy, written and directed by John Clancy, a co-founder of the New York International Fringe Festival and a man who has proved to be a skilled director of such plays as Brian Parks's Goner and Don Nigro's Cincinnati. Here, he's altered Lord Acton's dictum about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely to "Absolute power fattens absolutely."

In a land that could be our own, Fatboy (Del Pentecost) is so ravenous that he has devoured everything edible. At various points, we see him chewing on a chair and munching on his crown. In three scenes that are introduced by a grinning showgirl displaying music hall cards, he bickers with his almost equally obese wife, Fudgie (Nancy Walsh), goes on trial, and is ultimately done in (or is he?) by ministers whom he also wipes out. "Very Shakespearean," Fudgie intones, poker-faced. Very Jacobean, too, for that matter.

The fun of Fatboy -- and it's a good deal of broad fun -- is that Clancy has matched the crudeness of the destructive authorities depicted with a deliberately crude presentation. This is a burlesque in which the clowns are also the strippers; for example, Fudgie's lover (Matt Oberg) is the one who ends up in jungle-skin briefs, still fixing the audience with his amusing idea of a dreamboat's stare. The players wear grotesque make-up and behave accordingly.

The overall style could be described as sophomoric, but in whatever good sense that adjective may have. Throughout the play, the comic figures that Clancy introduces give virtuous speeches as if believing entirely in them, only to fall momentarily silent after their sanctimonious utterances and then break into derisive guffaws. Clancy is also adept at the unexpected deflating jibe. "You're a writer, then," one character says to another; "Don't mock me" is the retort. There are also any number of self-referential remarks worth a chuckle or two: "I am Fatboy, and I am titular," the eponymous lardy party bellows. Clancy also slips in a cute line about a king receiving royalty checks.

The play's language is more than crude; it's incessantly vulgar. This obscenity is an apt metaphor for the obscene manner in which government administrations behave towards the citizenry. Any resemblance to the current U.S. administrations is, of course, purely non-coincidental. Scatological jollity is maintained almost to the very end, but Clancy does indulge himself in an unnecessarily extended coda in which Fatboy continues a rant of the sort that counts on an audience's polite silence to register as representative of societal acquiescence. We sit through it thinking that we've long since gotten the message.

More than any other factor, the success of Fatboy depends on having a suitable leading man, and Clancy has found the right one in Pentecost. A husky fellow, the actor wears a bay window accessory under his shirt that gives him additional girth. But it's not solely his appearance that makes his performance work; he's got a booming voice that he's not afraid to unleash, and he demonstrates an affinity for the iambic pentameter that Clancy occasionally throws into the mix to remind patrons that a larger-than-life figure is confronting them.

As Fudgie, decked out in stuffing that endows her both front and back with what some might call formidable racks, Walsh is a contentious, libidinous Judy to Pentecost's Punch. Oberg, David Calvitto, Jody Lambert, and Rachel Mudd fill their many second-banana roles with energy and enthusiasm. Their nifty group efforts add up to another appealing example of Clancy's nastily rewarding brand of theater.