Ryan Findley

Neil LaBute’s “Reasons to be Pretty” a comedy that stings

By - Sep 29th, 2010 11:59 pm
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Suzan Fete, director of “Reasons to Be Pretty.”

This Friday, Renaissance Theaterworks will open Reasons to be Pretty, the third installment in playwright Neil LaBute’s trilogy of works that deal with our cultural obsession with external appearances. Reasons premiered on Broadway last year. It was the first LaBute to open on a Broadway stage, and it won a Tony nomination for best new play.

RTW produced the first show in this trilogy, The Shape of Things, in 2004. Then in 2008, Renaissance staged LaBute’s Fat Pig, the second. It was funny, and so is Reasons to be Pretty. Director Suzan Fete, who has been at the helm for all three productions, thinks that you should that it’s humorous in a biting, acerbic, laugh-only-because-it’s-not-you way. LaBute applies his acid pen like a scalpel as he dissects our propensity to place appearances the center of our interpersonal judgments. But unlike Fat Pig, Reasons emits a ray of hope.

Fete hesitates to say that the story ends happily. But it does end on a much higher note than one might expect. Perhaps happiness only comes into play by comparison with LaBute’s previous work, but the characters do seem to grow from mental teenagers in adult bodies to a degree of emotional maturity. In his introduction to the play, LaBute says Reasons is his first grown-up work.

Reasons to Be Pretty, in a nutshell: A young man says something spectacularly unkind about his girlfriend’s appearance to a third party. Her friend tells her what the boyfriend said. The girlfriend leaves him. Everyone spends the rest of the story dealing with the emotional aftermath of hurt. The moral of the story, if  there is one, is that cruel actions have consequences, and you must live with them. However, you can in fact live with them. Life does go on. Relatively speaking, that’s a happy ending.

Unlike Labute’s previous plays, this one is about blue-collar types, and not only  about being trapped in a certain body, but also in a certain job and social strata. These characters are stuck, and we can all relate to that.

They have arguments. Fete says you can hear these words hurled across the stage and think ‘Oh — I’ve had that argument, that ridiculous argument’. We know these people; to some degree, we are these people. We’ve descended into our baser selves, too.

This is the power of LaBute’s writing. It’s funny to watch his characters. And a little humbling.

Reasons to be Pretty opens in the Broadway Theater Center’s Studio Theater on Friday, Oct. 1 and runs through Oct. 24. Tickets are $34 for all performances, except for a pay-what-you-can show on Monday, Oct. 4. Tickets can be purchased through the Broadway Theater Center box office at 414-291-7800 or at www.r-t-w.com.

 

The cast: Lenny Banovez, Carrie Coon, Georgina McKee and Steve Wojtas.

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