According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Reasons To Be Pretty

Reasons To Be Pretty is certainly the laziest of Neil LaBute's three body-image themed plays (also The Shape of Things and Fat Pig). Thomas Sadoski comes across genuinely as Greg, but the other three actors seem to just be working on him, with no regard or care for self. Some awkward, reiterative monologues muddy things further, but as with all of LaBute's work, artifice, made sharp enough, can still be highly entertaining: even blanks pop when they go off.

Photo/Joan Marcus

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

It's not hard to put yourself in the shoes of Neil LaBute's latest accidental fuck-up of a character, Greg. Just have a few drinks with your best friend (call him Kent), and then, while talking about the undeniably hot chick who just started working the register, slur something about how, yeah, she's hot, your girlfriend of four years isn't pretty like that. It's a shame that Kent's wife, Carly, is not only in the next room, listening, but that her best friend, Steph, happens to be your girlfriend, but that should at least clue you in on why, as the lights rise, you're stuck in a fight you can't win.

Reasons To Be Pretty takes Greg's words at face value; the question the audience has to determine, as Steph calls him out on what she perceives to be the relationship-ending honesty of his words, is whether or not LaBute is capable of writing the truth. The answer: yes, and no. LaBute writes in a sort of hyper-realism, in which the situations are all too genuine, but the dialogue surrounding them is so crisp that it tends to create artificialities that stifle any genuine emotion: protecting the characters with patter. His prolific writing makes him a lazy playwright: the character in the center is real, but everyone else is just acting on him: they feed him pap, exit the stage, and cease to exist.

Reasons To Be Pretty ends up the same: as Greg, Thomas Sadoski is a marvelously human lead. He weathers Hurricane Steph's questions with a justly confused attitude, he tries to win her back with the best intentions, he puts on a happy face (and lets it crack) trying to deal with her new boyfriend and Kent's infidelities, and tries to do the right thing, even though the books he's read don't tell him what that is. However, Alison Pill's rabid rage against him comes out of nowhere: she does brilliantly to give Greg something to react to, and her acting is cool as ice, but it lacks humanity. (She gets some of it back in the second act, but by then, it seems like she's just putting us on.) The same, more so, for Pablo Schreiber's turn as Kent: he acts as if he knows he's the asshole, and he wallows in that, muddying up any truth or clear intent to his actions. He's still acting (I hope: this seems to be a stereotype for him), but it's all focused on Greg; nothing touches him. Surprisingly, LaBute leaves something in the tank for Carly, and Piper Perabo snaps it up, sharply transitioning from a walking punchline ("That's why they call it night," she says. "Because it's dark.") into the sort of woman who is smart enough to know that she's a little stupid, and brave enough to face those feelings.

Perhaps understanding the limitations of the play, Terry Kinney directs to LaBute's strengths: the production is extremely well-oiled, from the swift scene changes to the rapid-fire dialogue, which pops even when it's firing blanks. The set--a room boxed in by Wal-Mart-like storage--is the only ambiguous thing in the play; everything else is sharp and to the point. And that's perhaps what LaBute most needs to work on: Reasons To Be Pretty suffers from the inclusion of four aimless monologues (one per character) that are meant to illuminate, but only reiterate what's already coming across in the scenes. This is that laziness back to haunt LaBute: if he knew how to write more developed characters, perhaps he'd be able to trust them a little more.

Reasons To Be Pretty (130 min., 1 intermission)
MCC @ Lucille Lortel Theater (121 Christopher Street)
Tickets (212-279-4200): $59.00*
Performances (through 7/5): Tues. & Wed. @ 7 | Thurs. - Sat. @ 8 | Sat. @ 2 | Sun. @ 3
*$20 if you're under 30; sold based on availability at 6:00, day of.

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