Now in prieviws at the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway. Scheduled to open on April 2, 2009. (see listings). What follow is a a review of the Off Broadway production
Neil LaBute’s new comedy Reasons to be Pretty continues his examination of our obsession with physical beauty in what may be his most mature work to date. Making its world premier at the Lucille Lortel Theater in Greenwich Village, the MCC production is expertly directed by Terry Kinney. And while the play may not add up completely the actors with thrilling authority deliver visceral performances that hilariously cover the evening’s shortcomings.
The play is part of a trilogy by the prolific playwright, who seems intent on testing the audience’s capacity for shallow, self centered behavior. The first two, Fat Pig and The Shape of Things, looked at extreme insensitivity and superficiality, themes that appear here as well. But with his latest work LaBute himself appears to be growing up while altering his view of the world’s misogynists by giving us wonderfully complex characters. Indeed the playwright has practically said as much himself. In a program note referring to the protagonist at the center of the play, he said “Greg…just might be one of the few adults I’ve ever tackled.”
The evening begins with a head on confrontation between the hero Greg (Thomas Sadoski) and his girlfriend Steph (Alison Pill). Steph in a wounded rage is almost physically attacking him for not making her feel good enough. Apparently, while drinking beer with his cocky buddy and co-worker Kent (Pablo Schreiber), Greg has referred to Steph’s face as regular in comparison to a new worker’s “knock out” good looks. The remark has gotten back to Steph by way of Kent’s pregnant wife Carly (Piper Perabo), who works as a security guard at the warehouse, where the two men are stuck on the night shift.
In the twists that follow we discover that Kent and Carly’s perfect relationship is not exactly what it seems. Obnoxious Kent is cheating on his wife with the new worker and even goes so far as to change his shift to days in order to spend more time with his new squeeze.
The play paints a dark picture of blue collar middle class existence, and the cast under Terry Kinney’s gut wrenching direction expertly navigates the emotional terrain with finely nuanced performances. Best of all is Sadoski, who poignantly portrays the struggle to grow up, be honest and accept his limitations while moving on. He and Pill have excellent chemistry. While their first scene may be overly strident, they have many touching moments as the story progresses and we feel deeply for both of them.
Schreiber as the bully Kent gives us a good look at the fears and the insecurities that fuel his desperate behavior. He makes us hate this guy even as we laugh at him, but we also come to understand him as well. Perabo is a bit one noted as his wife, which may be a factor stemming from the somewhat underwritten character.
With Reasons to be Pretty LaBute has given us a funny entertaining morality tale. But at the core there is a coming of age story about redemption. Greg grows up and apparently so does the playwright.
By Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published in Dans Papers
Reasons to be Pretty opened at the Lucille Lortel Theater, 121 Christopher Street, in New York on June 2, 2008. For tickets call 212-279-4200.