4 STARS OUT OF 5.
Neil LaBute’s “reasons to be pretty” takes an intense, raunchy-language-laced look at contemporary relationships and how the wrong word used to describe a seemingly innocent situation can ruin a romantic bond. But LaBute’s abrupt, in-your-face slams coupled with the dirty word barrage and contrived, unbelievable situations is difficult to accept.
The play failed on Broadway although it garnered several Tony nominations. Stray Cat Theatre prides itself on producing unusual, challenging plays and selected “reasons to be pretty” to open its 9th season.
It starts with a harsh scene. The central characters, Steph and Greg, a couple for four years, battle over an off-handed comment Greg made about Steph, describing her as “regular.” In his mind, it wasn’t offensive and it doesn’t say that he finds her plain but it turns Steph into a raging and foul-mouthed maniac.
It starts things off with a bang and tells us the play’s point quickly. LaBute is blunt about miscommunication and he justifies the need to select words carefully. It paints the two central characters boldly and they don’t change until the second act when well needed character development causes maturity and growth in Greg and Steph. The play’s second half is stronger, more revelatory, and far more interesting. The first act goes nowhere as it hammers incessantly what’s drawn clearly in that first scene. Even two other never changing characters don’t make the first act better.
Kent and Carly, married friends of Steph and Greg, are stereotypes. Kent is a womanizer without loyalty and Carly is a mousy nothing who wears blinders about Kent. All four blue collar characters have no ambitions or futures.
Director April Miller keeps the pacing sharp as the play plods along until the better conceived second act. She’s aided by Kate Haas’ unbelievable drive, passion, and focus as Steph, Owen Virgin’s shaded Greg, and lanky Alexander Odysseus Bradley’s Kent, who does nothing other than satisfy his never-ending sexual desires. Only Michelle Chin fails to bring anything to Carly in a listless performance.
Haas starts her Steph with extreme intensity and never lets the screeching level fall throughout act one. By the second act, Haas slows, reflects, and grows as Steph discovering that life is filled with shades of gray. Virgin’s Greg takes Steph’s initial verbal abuse but uses the assaults to help him explore life indicating his willingness to change.
“reasons to be pretty’s” harsh look at contemporary relationships pounds its message initially with too much intensity until the superior second act permits growth from mistakes.
INTENSE “reasons to be pretty” IS CHALLENGING BUT MAKES ITS POINT
4 STARS OUT OF 5.