reasons to be pretty

  • Date:
    April 1, 2009
    Review by:
    Tulis McCall.

    A Review by Tulis McCall.

    Well, when I finally made it to reasons to be pretty, having missed the show the week before because it was a Tuesday curtain at 7PM and was therefore half over when we arrived at 8PM � I was not disappointed. Neil LaBute is a force of nature so powerful that the week before we attended he drove a theatre-goer to stand up and start screaming at Marin Ireland (Steph) who was yelling at Thomas Sadoski (Greg) who was yelling back. This happened during the first scene, which starts out and remains at a speed equivalent to a rocket when it hits earth�s atmosphere. The speed may have been a reason the man in the audience erupted. Or maybe it was the swearing. Or maybe it was the fact that a woman was confronting her boyfriend because he had been overheard to say she was regular looking. As in Not Pretty. As in He WAS GUILTY, and now he was trying to worm his way out of admitting it, and this woman was pissed. Way Pissed. So pissed that if he doesn�t admit what he said she threatens to kill his fish and pounce on him like she was Death itself. Maybe the whole shebang just got on that audience member�s last nerve, and he wasn�t going to take it anymore. Which, incidentally, is how all the characters in this play feel most of the time.

    Pretty much everyone threatens to pounce on everyone in this play. And why not? They are all pissed off. And what is remarkable about LaBute�s writing is that underneath all the pissed off parts are real characters. Within seconds of appearing, each character is fully formed. I don�t know if the characters have a history that the actors or LaBute created, and I don�t care. They are living large on the stage and that�s all I need. Swearing is not gratuitous. Sentences are not complete. Situation is not predictable.

    And the entire story revolves around a point that is nearly microscopic in size but atomic in strength. If your boyfriend doesn�t think of you as beautiful � what�s up with that? What are the limits in a relationship? Where is the point that makes you realize things have gone to far and you need to get off the train pronto. Everyone in this play is crossing those lines, from the get go. They cross, they change their minds, they retrace their steps and cross again. They test. They push. It�s as though the stage was a DMZ whose boundaries keep changing.

    So. Greg does not claim Steph as beautiful, even if it is to him only, when he�s over to Kent�s talking trash in the garage. Carly is listening from the kitchen so when Greg says that, Carly calls Steph. Later on, Steph tells Greg she knows and goes bullshit on him. Then Steph walks out and moves in with her parents. Then Greg complains to Kent. Then Kent says women are weird, but he can�t help because Greg shot himself in the foot on this one. Then Kent is all thinking of hooking up with someone new and wants to mouth off about that to Greg.

    This is straight out of high school and, when you think about it, how many of us have progressed much further than that in the romance department. Where romance is concerned all bets are off. It�s a high school hallway out there and whose eye you catch on the way to your next class is what the deal is all about.

    Not only does LaBute focus his subject, he narrows the playing field even more by focusing on these characters. These are four people in a dead end town with dead end jobs. There is not a dot of glamour on that stage. These characters are at the bottom of the pool. They don�t make it up as high as Joe the plumber. Nobody cares about them except them. And Neil LaBute. This is a kind of Beckett landscape in which people are only absurd because they keep getting back into the ring to slug away at one another.

    I wish the directing had lived up to the script. It was sort of lack luster, and I wondered how much help the actors got when the going got repetitive. LaBute does repeat and most of the time it works, but he is a clean writer so a little repetition goes a long way. This script could easily lose 15 minutes and become a one act play without losing any of the context. The performances felt uneven as well, and were often heavy on the anticipatory gesture vs. the reactive moment. LaBute requires you to turn on a dime, not guide the plane in with flare guns.

    You don�t have time to think when you watch reasons to be pretty. Save that for the ride home to your normal life.

    Tulis McCall

    What the press had to say.....

    "a wonderfully acted production" & "the freshest and most illuminating American dialogue to be heard anywhere these days."
    Ben Brantley
    New York Times

    "fierce observations, emotional fireworks and occasional thunderbolts of comic insight "
    Joe Dziemianowicz
    New York Daily News

    "borders on the benign."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli
    New York Post

    "ferociously funny" & "The dialogue couldn�t be snappier and psychologically more astute"
    John Simon

    "No contemporary writer has more astutely captured the brutality in everyday conversation and behavior"
    Elysa Gardner
    USA Today

    "There are plenty of reasons to see Reasons."
    David Sheward
    Back Stage

    "lively and compulsively watchable"
    Robert Feldberg
    The Record

    "Unquestionably, it's a highlight of the season"
    Michael Kuchwara
    Associated Press

    "there's compassion and even tenderness running through this play that make it one of his (Neil LaBute) best."
    David Rooney