reasons to be pretty

  • Date:
    June 1, 2008
    Review by:
    Barbara Mehlman and Geri Manus.

    A Review by Barbara Mehlman and Geri Manus.

    The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, which has been collecting multi-specialty procedural statistics since 1997, says the overall number of cosmetic procedures as of the end of 2007 has increased 457% since the collecting of statistics first began.

    As you probably guessed, 91% of those who felt compelled to improve upon what they saw in the mirror are women, and for some inexplicable reason, this subject has become an obsession to a man, playwright Neil LaBute, who has tackled this issue in "The Shape of Things" and "Fat Pig" in 2001 and 2004, and now, in a new play, "reasons to be pretty."

    Beauty, or lack of it, is the central issue of "reasons." If beauty really is "in the eye of the beholder," and your beholder thinks you're just "regular," then what did he see when he was attracted to you in the first place, that moment before you even exchanged words?

    This is what Steph needs to know. Played by the diminutive Alison Pill, Steph is a plain-looking girl who lives with warehouse worker, lunchbox toting, classics-reading Greg. But their relationship, which already has some unsightly cracks, gets blown apart when Steph's best friend, Carly, calls to repeat a remark she overheard Greg make about a gorgeous new employee: "Steph's just 'regular,' not beautiful." Regular? In insecure female language, that translates into "ugly."

    The play begins with a high-pitched, all-out confrontation in the break room at work where Steph demands that Greg repeat exactly what he said. With her limited vocabulary, spewing more F-words than ever heard in a Mamet play, she finally gets him to admit what he said.

    It was a throwaway remark, but it cut deeper than any plastic surgeon's scalpel, and in her poignant monologue to the audience, Steph asks, with good reason: what does he see when he looks at me?

    This question is reiterated by each character at some point in the play. Carly, the eavesdropping tattler, is married to Kent, the epitome of narcissism. With his washboard abs, meandering ways, and he-man bravado, Kent is the kind of guy other guys want to be. King of the bedroom and baseball field, Kent is a man's man - till he goes too far in all directions, and ends up destroying his two most important relationships.

    "reasons to be pretty" is LaBute's you've-hear-it-before harangue about our celebrity-obsessed culture, one that drives women to scrutinize sneak photos of celebs caught with their cellulite hanging out, in an attempt to make themselves feel better. But television shows like "Ugly Betty" tackle this idea with more urgency and depth. Greg's clich�-ed monologue at the end of the play can easily be summed up with "Beauty is truth, truth beauty," only Keats said it much more eloquently.

    The excellent cast, however, redeems most of the play's shortcomings. Pill shows a wide range of emotion, and is believable as the "regular" girl since she really is just "regular." She portrays Steph as a woman who's sweet, and easy to love, only she doesn't know it.

    Piper Perabo as Carly, takes longer to gain our sympathies, if she ever does. LaBute never examines why Steph's so-called best friend would call to snitch on Greg, a plot line dropped and a missed opportunity that could have given "reasons to be pretty" a reason to be taken more seriously.

    Pablo Schreiber as Kent is splendid in his limited ability to express himself, and his vast inability to care about anyone else's feelings but his own, while Thomas Sadoski is both endearing and infuriating as Greg, the "regular" guy whose verbal faux pas pushes him to re-examine his life.

    "reasons to be pretty" is worthy of attention, particularly if you've seen the first two plays of the trilogy, but it closes next week on July 5th. However, the producers are planning a move to Broadway next season, so you can wait till then to see it. Perhaps LaBute will do a bit of revising, as often happens with such moves, and then you'll have a real good reason to see "reasons."

    Barbara Mehlman & Geri Manus