reasons to be pretty
During a phone call with the man I was dating not so long ago, I mentioned every woman wonders what she looks like to others. He responded, “Well, you’re not unattractive.”
Gee, thanks. The blow to my (fragile) ego was immense. Call me ugly... ugly has great beauty in it’s depth. Call me handsome... some women are, with strength showing in their faces. But, “....not unattractive”?? Just a roundabout way of saying ‘regular’, which was harsh to hear.
This is exactly the basis for the screaming fight we come into as the lights go up in ‘reasons to be pretty’, the 2009 Tony nominated play (Best Play, Best Actor, Best Actress) by Neil LaBute, currently at the Lyceum Theater in New York.
Greg (Thomas Sadoski), the man dancing around to avoid the words and insults thrown by his girlfriend of four years, Steph (Marin Ireland), was inept enough to apply the adjective ‘regular’ when discussing Steph with his friend, Kent (Steven Pasquale); a conversation overheard by Kent’s wife, Carly (Piper Perabo) who promptly called Steph, and repeated the manly conversation word for word. Word. For. Word.
The following scenes in this two act play show us how the four move through the minefield we call ‘relationships’, stepping on mines the entire time.
I saw this work first when it was produced at the Lucille Lortel Theater on Christopher by the MCC group. At that point, it had words I didn’t hear this time, and words that exist now, that didn’t before. I missed a few of the phrases, the bits that created the characters... and, I welcomed new additions that added to the texture of the play.
I did notice the usual mention of a Buick by LaBute in his work was now missing, but, that’s not important.
What is important is the sense you have when you first start viewing the production... a sense of superiority, of listening to language screamed and barely suppressed violence, and the understanding this happened many times before with these two combatants. It is a, “That’s certainly not how I behave. Hrumph, obviously not as good as I am.” As we move along, that feeling falls away, leaving you at the end with the understanding you may not be as honest or as strong as some of the characters. It is not a pleasant feeling.
Of all of LaBute’s works, and, I’ve read or seen all of them-- this was his most balanced. There is redemption of one character after the initial tinge of dislike, and, he creates his first (male) character to knowingly self-sacrifice. Add to it that usual LaBute way of holding us accountable for ourselves by saying, “Look. This could be you.”, toss in the depth of language, the rapid slap shots of the arguments, the wit so dry you feel moisture leaving the air, the understanding of how we function, of what hurts the most, the raw emotion, a ending of hope--all of this gives the production lagniappe... a little something more than you usually find on Broadway.
Terry Kinney has done a wonderful job with his direction and in guiding each of the actors (Ireland and Pasquale are new to the cast, Perabo and Sadoski have reprised their off-Broadway roles) to work well within the frames of their characters. I still love the beauty of the simple set, the music is perfect (make sure you pay attention to the Muzak during the Mall scene), excellent light design, and there is a hell of a stage manager.
Oh, yes, the cast....they are tightly meshed together, working as this effective unit to bring you into their world, allowing you to believe in them completely. Although each is superb, Sadoski wears the skin of Greg so perfectly, you weep/cringe/hope with him, for him.
I’ve always said Neil LaBute writes everything with a bedrock of love, showing how messed up we make it, what we’ll do for it, how we destroy others in it’s name. Love stories always end with someone hurting, so, let’s be honest... he is the master of the love story. I used to say I wish he’d write a romance, all happy endings and joy.. now? I’m not so sure I want him to change. If it ain’t broke....
‘reasons to be pretty’, by Neil LaBute. Lyceum Theater, 149 45th. Running two hours and 15 minutes with an intermission (that I feel isn’t needed). Now through 6 September 2009. PS Check out the teeshirt--it rocks.