Volume 78 / Number 5 - July 2 - July 8, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Photo credit Joan Marcus
Greg (Pablo Schreiber) and Kent (Thomas Sadoski) in Neil LaBute’s new play, “Reasons to Be Pretty,” at the Lucille Lortel Theater.
More than skin deep
In ‘Reasons to Be Pretty,’ Neil Labute explores the importance of beauty
Reasons to Be Pretty
By Neil Labute
MCC Theater Production
Through July 5
Lucille Lortel Theater
121 Christopher St.
By Adrienne Urbanski
Writer Neil Labute is known for depicting the cruelty and heartless nature of male sexuality in his work, as evidenced by the philandering and vengeful men in his screenplays “In the Company of Men” and “Your Friends and Neighbors.” In “Reasons to Be Pretty,” however, he has imagined a conflicted man with the capacity for growth, and has in fact referred to the work as his first coming-of-age story. Previously, his male characters displayed little room for change, or, after temporary improvement to decently, backpedaled to their original state, as in “Fat Pig,” in which a man opens up to the possibility of dating an overweight woman, only to dump her when faced with the reaction of his friends. “Reasons to Be Pretty” marks the final chapter in a trilogy about physical beauty, preceded by “Fat Pig” and “The Shape of Things,” which features a twist on the familiar man-is-monster slant.
The show opens with Stephanie (Alison Pill) releasing a stream of obscenities at her boyfriend, Greg (Thomas Sadoski), demanding that he come clean about a derogatory comment he made about her appearance to a coworker, reported to her by her friend Carly (Piper Perabo). Greg sidesteps the truth, then glosses it over, so that it’s are never made clear what exactly was said, only that he lamented the plainness of Stephanie’s face compared to that of a particularly foxy coworker. Stephanie is so torn apart by his comment that she leaves Greg and subsequently adopts the habit of constantly dressing up and wearing makeup, trying to look beautiful.
Greg initially doesn’t recognize the harm in his actions, but feels sympathetic when he realizes just how much pain his has caused, made apparent to him when Stephanie shows up to the food court of the local mall to read aloud a laundry list of Greg’s shortcomings. In spite his carelessness, however, Greg isn’t really a bad guy, just one in need of some maturing. Having dropped out of college, he works nights moving stock in and out of freight trucks, reading classic literature on his breaks as a means of proving the existence of his intelligence. He is mirrored by Kent (Pablo Schreiber), his dim friend from childhood who is a conscienceless womanizer. Although in a long-term relationship with Stephanie’s friend Carly, Kent initiates an affair with another woman, one he continues even after Carly becomes pregnant. By witnessing the damage done to Carly, Greg clicks on fully, choosing to end his friendship with Kent through a particularly bloody fist fight.
Unlike those in Labute’s other, more airtight creations, the characters of “reasons to be pretty” have room to breath. Conversations meander and run off topic, leading to greater characterization. Events are interrupted by monologues from each of the four main characters, in which they address the audience directly, sharing their own experiences with beauty.
All of the actors shine in their roles. Pill, an Off-Broadway sweetheart since last year’s “Blackbird,” fully conveys the desperation and sadness of Stephanie’s predicament, and is well matched by Sadoski’s display of Greg’s bumbling naiveté. Perabo, known for adding oomph to such lackluster films as “Coyote Ugly,” proves more than capable of taking on live theater. Her monologue on the price of beauty is one of the play’s most poignant spots. Schreiber (brother of the famous Liev) is equally convincing as the heartless and thoughtless cretin that is Kent.
The obvious message of “Reasons to Be Pretty” may be a bit simplistic, especially when compared to the clever ingenious twists in his previous works such as “The Shape of Things,” but it’s a well-executed message nonetheless. When Greg instructs the audience on the importance of being nice, the obviousness of the observation is nearly laughable, yet might still be a message that needs to be said, especially in a society where, for a woman, being beautiful is often paramount to all other attributes.