There's a running theme through "reasons to be pretty," hinted at in the title and the persistent lower case typography, that looks aren't everything, although our culture tends to put more emphasis on physical beauty than it deserves.
Such an observation almost goes without saying, but there's more at work here than meets the stage.
The play begins with an intense verbal sparring session between Steph (Rachel Mock) and her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend of four years Greg (Steve Early), incited by a bit of gossip she received that in comparing Steph to a new co-worker at the food warehouse where he works, Greg referred to her looks as "normal." Just that. While not particularly an insult, and even if it is, a mild one, but it certainly rubs Steph the wrong way. She may be plain, she admits, but she wants a man who sees her as beautiful.
Fair enough, one supposes, but it seeems like a rather thin reason to end a relationship, but possible the proverbial straw breaking the camel's back, so we start looking for other flaws in their doomed relationship.
The biggest, and this is probably true in every troubled relationship, is the inability to communicate and articulate one's feelings and expectations. Even in her fury, Steph is unable to fully express the inadequacies of their relationship, and instead of simply owning up to what he said and offer an apology, Greg stalls and equivocates, so by the time he gets to an explanation, we can feel Steph's frustration.
The foil to Greg and Steph is their best friends Kent (Justin Baldwin) and Carly (Mindy Heithaus), a married couple who work nights at the food warehouse (Carly is uniformed security) with Greg. It was Carly who tipped Steph off to Greg's faux pas. At first, they're poised to be the happy couple, but we soon begin learning about the trouble lurking beneath that facade, trouble much more serious than Greg's poor choice of words.
There's also a subtle existential undercurrent of these characters not living up to their aspirations. In the scenes taking place in the breakroom, Greg always carries a book with him, not trash novels or detective stories, but heavy-duty literature like Edgar Alan Poe and Washington Irving. His pal Kent waxes somewhat ineloquently about being a reliable and upright employee, and effort he's unwilling to give to his marriage.
Neil LaBute is known for his hard-edged, unsympathetic characters, but in this quartet, it is only the misogynistic Kent that earns our vitriol as the conflicts among the personalities all eminate from his poor behavior.
The performances are tight and sympathetic, the direction crisp and the play moves well even though there are many scene changes in a tight performance space. We can appreciate the characters and their plight, and come away a little more informed about our own ways of speaking. There are reasons to be pretty, to be sure, but there are better reasons to be honest and loving.
"reasons to be pretty"
April 12-28, Thur-Sat at 7:30 pm.
Columbia Performance Center, 3900 Eastern Avenue.
Near Terry’s Turf Club, Allyn’s, Bella Luna, Tostado’s, Eli’s BBQ and The Precinct.
Tickets: $23 adults, $18 seniors, and $15 students.
Special NET/Flex pricing is available for groups of 4 or more.
Purchase/reserve tickets: www.newedgecliff.com or call box office, 888.588.0137.