BOTTOM LINE: Bitingly funny and self-aware. Perfect entertainment, especially for members of Generations X and Y.
Thomas Sadoski and Marin Ireland in Reasons to Be Pretty
Neil LaBute is one of the greatest American playwrights working today. Prolific, hip, and insightful, his characters are generally in their 20s and 30s, archetypes who are flawed but recognizable. Although he’s done plenty of work for both stage and screen — he wrote and/or directed The Shape of Things, Fat Pig, and Nurse Betty, to name a few — Reasons to Be Pretty marks his Broadway debut. It’s a good choice for the Great White Way, because it isn’t as alienating as some of his other work. There are still squeamish moments and brutal insults that are characteristic of any LaBute play, but unlike the characters who populate Fat Pig, for instance, most of the characters in Reasons are truly likable. Sure, they’re flawed, but at their core they’re sympathetic. This is especially true of the protagonist, Greg.
LaBute’s writing style is sharp and aggressive. His characters sling vulgar insults at one another, never afraid to raise their voices or fight back in self-defense. When the scene isn’t heated, their witty banter is reminiscent of an especially perceptive Friends episode. LaBute’s themes are often about exposing the bullshit that underlies relationships, usually involving Gen-Xers living typical American lives; the superficiality of dating is a common theme as well. LaBute’s work is captivating partly because his characters are so evocative of people you know.
Reasons has a wonderful script that’s performed to perfection by the cast of four. Greg (Thomas Sadoski) works the night shift at a warehouse with his friend Kent (Steven Pasquale), your standard misogynistic douchebag who’s charming enough to get whatever he wants. When a new, hot employee joins the staff, Greg is caught saying something degrading about how his girlfriend, Steph (Marin Ireland), looks in comparison. Kent’s wife, Carly (Piper Perabo), overhears the comment and quickly tells Steph, as any good girlfriend would. Steph is obviously pissed and hurt, and the inevitable ugly breakup with Greg results.
Everyone is a little bit in the wrong: Greg shouldn’t have said anything in the first place, Kent shouldn’t have brought it up and encouraged him to talk about it, Steph shouldn’t have overreacted, and Carly probably shouldn’t have told her anyway. Add to this drama the complications that arise as Kent makes bad, deceitful decisions in his own life and you get a precarious scenario between four friends.
Director Terry Kinney does a great job keeping the scenes moving and the energy high — tension is always lingering in the air. The stage is set up as a generic room of sorts, including a back wall with one window and one door, and a tile floor below. In between scenes, furniture and set pieces whiz onto the stage and then off again, transforming the space into Greg’s house, the warehouse where Kent and he work, a mall food court, and a baseball field. Reasons moves right along, never boring. And with a fun score accompanying the scene changes, Reasons adopts a fresh cinematic quality. For all of the ways that LaBute’s play brilliantly utilizes its theatrical resources, it really does feel like a movie in many ways.
It’s beyond refreshing to see unique stories told onstage, especially about young adults in the present day. These kinds of characters are seldom explored by plays that make it all the way to Broadway, possibly because Broadway audiences tend to skew much older. Those of you who fit into the demographic Reasons to Be Pretty delves into seriously need to see this show — it’s for you, and it’s freaking awesome that it gets to have a Broadway run. Even if you’re not in your 20s or 30s you can relate because you’ve been there. You should definitely check it out.
Reasons to Be Pretty plays at the Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th St. Performances are Tue 7 PM, Wed-Sat 8 PM (also Wed and Sat 2 PM), and Sun 3 PM. Tickets are $31.50-$111.50; call 212-239-6200 or visit telecharge.com, and check broadwaybox.com for discount codes. Visit doesthisplaymakemelookfat.com for more show info and theatreiseasy.com for more NY theatre reviews.