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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Lucille Lortel Theatre


  Alison Pill

The battle of the sexes rages on in Neal LaBute's fiery new play Reasons to be Pretty. Men and women yell at each other, hit each other, and tear each other down with insults. In LaBute's world, men can't help hurting their girlfriends or wives. It comes with the DNA. By the end LaBute's tone and his characters soften, but he still presents a harsh and hard-hitting portrait of male-female relationships.

The play's main theme involves whether physical beauty and physical attraction are what holds couples together. In the opening scene Steph (Alison Pill) screams at her boyfriend Greg (Thomas Sadoski), hurling invective at him and seething with anger. It seems that her friend Carly (Piper Perabo) overheard Greg say something unkind about Steph's looks to Kent (Pablo Schreiber), Carly's husband and Greg's coworker at a warehouse. It isn't an easy scene to sit through, unless one enjoys being caught in the middle of an especially nasty lovers' quarrel.

There's more yelling and name calling during the next two and a quarter hours, along with a nasty physical fight between Greg and Kent. Fortunately, LaBute mixes things up with quieter scenes in which we get to know the characters. Greg reads literature and doesn't plan to spend the rest of his life working at a warehouse. Kent is an overgrown child whose main preoccupations are sex and sports. He has an affair that puts Greg in an uncomfortable position. Steph is a hairdresser who has dated Greg for four years and is genuinely hurt by his offhand remark. And Carly is a security guard at the warehouse who is quite confident in her looks. (She reveals this in a monologue all four characters take a turn addressing the audience.)

LaBute's dialogue isn't always pretty but does ring true, whether it's casual workplace banter or an emotional argument. There's more humor than one usually finds in LaBute's work, which includes the film The Shape of Things and the play The Mercy Seat. Together with The Shape of Things and Fat Pig, Reasons to Be Pretty is meant to be the final installment of a trilogy on beauty. The earlier plays contain memorable moments, but neither has a scene as funny as the one in which Steph tries to get back at Greg by reciting a two-page list of his flaws, physical and otherwise.

Pill is by no means unattractive, which is a problem since the plot revolves around Greg's put-down of her looks. The actress is convincing nonetheless. She's at her best in her final scene with Sadoski, when both their characters have mellowed substantially. Sadoski is also excellent, even managing to make us (almost) believe that Greg would read Poe and Swift during breaks at the warehouse. In the least likable role, Schreiber makes Kent a compelling, albeit self-centered and thoughtless, Neanderthal. Perabo's part isn't as showy, but she skillfully shows the insecurity lying beneath Carly's bravado.

Terry Kinney's strong direction heightens the tension when appropriate, then lets things get less intense. As in his other plays and films, LaBute's characters are flawed and often far from lovable. But at least he gives three of them a heart in this tough, no-holds-barred look at men and women's love-hate relationships.


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