It’s not all that easy to smile after more than a decade of professional scowling. “Reasons to Be Pretty” has an adolescent awkwardness at times that is the opposite of the contrived jigsaw-puzzle precision associated with Mr. LaBute.
In a playwright’s note in the program, he writes that this is “the first coming-of-age story I’ve written.” And he doesn’t avoid the clichés or mistiness of that genre in recounting the sentimental education of Greg (Mr. Sadoski), an autodidactic warehouse worker trying to figure out who he is in the wake of a brutal breakup with Steph (Ms. Pill).
But Mr. LaBute has also released himself from the obligations of feeding a single moral theme and a corkscrew-turn plot leading to a “gotcha” ending. And he stretches like someone who has taken off a tight girdle. The relatively easygoing sprawl of “Reasons to Be Pretty” allows his characters to talk naturally and at leisure as they ponder their own often less-than-pretty natures.
In the course of these conversations, you realize anew what a sensitive ear Mr. LaBute has for the uncommonness in common speech — of the individuality within everyday language — and for how people of all levels of education and eloquence use words as instruments of power. Those four-letter missiles that Steph hurls at Greg in the first scene are only the flashiest examples of words as defensive artillery. There are far more subtle variations to follow.
What provoked that initial tirade, by the way, was Steph’s hearing that Greg, in comparing his girlfriend with a pretty new employee where he works, has described her face as “regular” looking. An innocuous adjective, you might think, but it’s potent enough to make Steph walk out in high dudgeon on a four-year relationship.
At the warehouse Greg sifts through his life with Steph in conversations with Kent (Mr. Schreiber) and Carly (Ms. Perabo), a security guard and Kent’s wife. That no one could call Carly, a knockout blonde, regular-looking becomes the subject of further ruminations on the nature and importance of beauty.
“Reasons to Be Pretty” is the final installment of a trilogy by Mr. LaBute devoted to the contemporary obsession with physical appearance, following the abrasive “Shape of Things” and the gentler (and superior) “Fat Pig.” The subject is explored here in four monologues, one per character and all strong, except for a concluding speech by Greg that sums up the-lessons-he-has-learned way too sweetly and glibly. All of these pale, though, next to a rivetingly uncomfortable scene in which Steph reads aloud — quite audibly, in a food court at a mall — a catalog of everything that’s wrong with Greg’s appearance.
It’s telling that the person you feel most sorry for here is Steph, the attacker. What makes this play resonate is less its Big Theme — beauty (or lack thereof) and its discontents — than how that theme illuminates the insecurities of people who don’t feel they have much to offer the world. The performers provide such naked portraits of those insecurities that we intuit why their characters act as they do even if they do not.
Ms. Pill, who proved herself a master of emotional rawness in “Blackbird,” is again commandingly intense and authentic. Ms. Perabo, known largely for screen work (“The Prestige,” “Cheaper by the Dozen”), cannily finds the soft center within Carly’s sharp edges.
Mr. Schreiber (of “Awake and Sing!” and “Dying City”) confirms his great gift for making unsympathetic characters not just believable but also understandable. And Mr. Sadoski anchors the play’s most generic (and therefore toughest) role with unfaltering emotional clarity.
Mr. Schreiber’s character is in the obnoxious mold of the prototypical LaBute man, an eternal brat stranded in obstreperous, greedy childhood. Here he is set up a bit too pointedly as an effigy to be knocked down, and the play includes a scene in which Mr. LaBute’s sensitive new hero (whom the playwright has described as “one of the few adults I’ve ever tackled”) takes on his insensitive friend (and alter ego) mano a mano.
But since Mr. LaBute is in such a forgiving mood, we should be, too. Steph tells Greg many times that he doesn’t listen to what other people say. “Reasons to Be Pretty” is in part about learning to listen. If it stumbles in illustrating this lesson, it also opens its author’s ears to a new, richly human music.
REASONS TO BE PRETTY
By Neil LaBute; directed by Terry Kinney; sets by David Gallo; costumes by Sarah J. Holden; lighting by David Weiner; music and sound by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen; production manager, B. D. White. Presented by the MCC Theater, Robert LuPone and Bernard Telsey, artistic directors; William Cantler, associate artistic director; Blake West, executive director. At the Lucille Lortel Theater, 121 Christopher Street, West Village; (212) 279-4200. Through July 5. Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes.
WITH: Piper Perabo (Carly), Alison Pill (Steph), Thomas Sadoski (Greg) and Pablo Schreiber (Kent).
Reasons to be Pretty
Lucille Lortel Theater
121 Christopher St.
CategoryOff Broadway, Comedy/Drama
CastStarring Alison Pill, Piper Perabo, Pablo Schreiber and Thomas Sadoski
PreviewMay 14, 2008
OpenedJune 2, 2008
Closing Date July 5, 2008
This information was last updated:
reasons to be pretty is a play by Neil LaBute, his first to be staged on Broadway. The plot centers on four young working class friends and lovers who become increasingly dissatisfied with their dead-end lives and each other. Following The Shape of Things and Fat Pig, it is the final installment of a trilogy that focuses on modern-day obsession with physical appearance.
Produced by MCC Theater and directed by Terry Kinney, the play premiered at the Off-Broadway Lucille Lortel Theater on June 2, 2008 and ran through July 5. The cast included Piper Perabo, Pablo Schreiber, Alison Pill, and Thomas Sadoski.
Ben Brantley of The New York Times thought the play "has an adolescent awkwardness at times that is the opposite of the contrived jigsaw-puzzle precision associated with Mr. LaBute... The relatively easygoing sprawl of reasons to be pretty allows his characters to talk naturally and at leisure as they ponder their own often less-than-pretty natures. In the course of these conversations, you realize anew what a sensitive ear Mr. LaBute has for the uncommonness in common speech — of the individuality within everyday language — and for how people of all levels of education and eloquence use words as instruments of power... What makes this play resonate is less its Big Theme — beauty (or lack thereof) and its discontents — than how that theme illuminates the insecurities of people who don’t feel they have much to offer the world... reasons to be pretty is in part about learning to listen. If it stumbles in illustrating this lesson, it also opens its author’s ears to a new, richly human music."
The Broadway production, also directed by Kinney, began previews at the Lyceum Theatre on March 13, 2009, opened on April 2, 2009 and closed on June 14, 2009 after 85 performances. The cast included Off-Broadway cast members Thomas Sadoski and Piper Perabo joined by Marin Ireland and Steven Pasquale.
In reviewing the Broadway production for the New York Times, Brantley said, "Even more than when I saw it last June, reasons flows with the compelling naturalness of overheard conversation" and concluded, "It’s never easy to say what you mean, or to know what you mean to begin with. With a delicacy that belies its crude vocabulary, reasons to be pretty celebrates the everyday heroism in the struggle to find out."
In 2011 it was produced in London at the Almeida Theatre with a cast including UK actress Billie Piper, Kieran Bew, Siân Brooke and Tom Burke. It opened to critical acclaim on the press night, 17 November 2011, with reviewers claiming it 'was one of the best theatre productions' they had seen in 2011.
The Australian premiere took place in May 2012 at the Darlinghurst Theatre in Sydney, directed by National Institute of Dramatic Arts graduate James Beach and starring Andrew Henry.
The first Canadian production was presented in Montreal, at Théâtre La Licorne, from November 19 to December 14, 2012 with Quebec French translation by David Laurin and direction by Frédéric Blanchette. The cast of l'obsession de la beauté included Anne-Élisabeth Bossé, Maude Giguère, David Laurin and Mathieu Quesnel.
Reasons to be pretty has also been put up in San Francisco at San Francisco Playhouse where it opened on March 26.
LaBute wrote a sequel to the play, Reasons to be Happy, which premiered in June 2013 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in an MCC Theatre production. It features the same four characters several years later, and starred Jenna Fischer, Josh Hamilton, Leslie Bibb and Fred Weller.
Awards and nominations
Original Broadway production
- ^ abNew York Times, June 3, 2008
- ^" reasons to be pretty Listing" Internet Off-Broadway Database (lortel.org)
- ^" reasons to be pretty Broadway Listing" playbillvault.com, accessed May 9, 2015
- ^"Theater Reviews."New York Times, April 3, 2009
- ^reasons to be pretty almeida.co.uk
- ^"l'obsession de la beauté". Theatre La Licorne. Retrieved 2017-11-25.
- ^"SF Gate Reasons to be Pretty". Retrieved 2014-05-14.
- ^Hetrick, Adam. "Neil LaBute's 'Reasons to Be Happy', Starring Jenna Fischer and Josh Hamilton, Ends Off-Broadway Run" playbill.com, June 29, 2013