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LaBute’s ‘reasons to be pretty’ by PTCBY: Steve Cohen 06.11.2012
Like its predecessors in Neil LaBute’s trilogy, reasons to be pretty throws together four insecure young people with hangups about beauty and their friends’ opinions.
reasons to be pretty. By Neil LaBute; Maria Mileaf directed. Philadelphia Theatre Company through June 24, 2012 at Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad St. (at Lombard). (215) 985-1400 or www.philadelphiatheatrecompany.org.
Beautiful but miserableSTEVE COHEN
reasons to be pretty is the third play in Neil LaBute’s trilogy about our obsession with physical appearances. Like The Shape of Things (which was made into a movie) and Fat Pig (which had great success off-Broadway and at Norristown’s Theatre Horizon), reasons to be pretty throws together four young people with hangups about beauty and their friends’ opinions. Like its predecessors, reasons contains realistic dialogue, many four-letter words and gut-wrenching confrontations.
About the title being all lower case, LaBute says that’s to assert that there is no actual “reason to be pretty” and putting it in lower case diminishes the validity of a quest for beauty.
Beneath the funny jokes are troubled souls trying to cope with insecurities. A young woman named Stephanie (played by Genevieve Perrier) attacks her boyfriend Greg (the good-natured Daniel Abeles) with incredible anger after her girlfriend Carly (Elizabeth Stanley) informed her that Greg, in a casual conversation, described Stephanie as having a “regular” face rather than a pretty one.
Stephanie is unremittingly vicious and Greg is conciliatory, to the point where my companions and I were rooting impatiently for Greg to stand up for himself and throw her out. That’s what LaBute has him do at the end of the play, but that ending was a long time coming.
Ben Brantley, reviewing the 2008 off-Broadway production for the New York Times, said that the person you feel most sorry for is Steph, the attacker. Not me. I share the reaction of the New York critic Richmond Shepard: “I wouldn’t want to spend ten minutes with this unpleasant woman.”
Rarely have I seen such strong differences of critical opinion, and it’s good to keep both perspectives in mind as you observe the rants by Steph, the meddling by her girlfriend Carly, and the meanness of Greg’s co-worker, Kent, a shallow womanizer in the mold of LaBute’s Carter from Fat Pig. (Paul Felder, the actor who played Carter for Theatre Horizon, is Kent here.)
The script’s redeeming feature is the emotional growth of the beleaguered Greg and his eventual declarations of independence from his ex-girlfriend, his co-worker and his job. Abeles won my heart with his basic decency and his self-deprecating humor.
LaBute’s original script gave each character a soliloquy about beauty, spaced evenly throughout the show. Carly’s monologue revealed that she was frightened that all she has to offer is her looks. Greg’s was an epilogue to the play, explaining what he had learned.
To reduce the play’s running time, the producer asked LaBute to delete the monologues. LaBute did so, and now he feels that the drama works better without them. I agree. Those soliloquies may have provided intellectual substance, but they sucked momentum from the play’s theatricality.♦
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