There’s a truth Neil LaBute reveals in the Tony-nominated reasons to be pretty that has nothing to do with wrinkles or Botox. It’s about relationships and how the real knock-down, drag-out fights are about the seemingly smallest things. The characters may have trouble communicating with each other, but the Crescent Stage production nails the difference between what you say to each other, what you see in each other, and how you really feel.
As the play starts, we’re nearing the end of an emotional bruiser that started after bumbling Greg (played by Paul Whitty) told his best buddy that his girlfriend, Stephanie (Katie Huard), was plain compared to the new hottie at the office. Stephanie got wind of the comment, and it ends the relationship, sending Greg on a journey of self exploration that takes us through his blue-collar life: from the warehouse break room (complete with the office trophy), the food court at the mall, and the community ball field.
A 2009 Broadway success, the play has a modern-day time stamp, with references to Skyping and trying to “Lance Armstrong” your way out of a fight, as well as an amusing analytical discussion of a Power Bar. Obviously, this isn’t a kids show, and there’s just as many “shits” as pop culture references. The colorful, Waffle House language is fine, but we enjoy LaBute’s more subtle everyman lines.
Huard’s best moment isn’t in the script; it’s her response in the food court when Greg says the wrong thing for the last time. And Whitty’s subtle performance pays off in the final lines as he figures out what he meant to say and then realizes it’s too late.
The other couple in reasons to be pretty features dickhead Kent (Paul Rolfes) and his too-good-for-him wife, Carly (Blair Brooks). Together, they shine a different light on relationships and the damage done when you should get caught with your foot in your mouth, but you don’t. Brooks’ palatable transition from confidence to doubt is also a stand-out.
The staging is inventive, with the clever incorporation of pallets, and the intimate setting of the Chapel Theatre gets every member of the audience in on the show when the actors look at them and ask what the hell they’re looking.
The line that really resonates in the piece is when Stephanie argues that her anger over Greg’s comment isn’t “a girl thing.” But LaBute subtly points out that it is. When Stephanie offers her own biting critique of Greg, the lines that sting the most aren’t about his face; it’s about his sexual failings. When she finds a new man, we have no idea what he looks like, but we do know that he’s got a nice car, and he’s a passionate lover.
Like its previous offerings, Crescent has found a modern play that asks a simple question and leaves the audience to figure it out what it means. What are the reasons to be pretty? Maybe it’s a ring, maybe it’s affection, maybe it’s laughter, maybe it’s a romantic gesture, or maybe it’s his expression. Or maybe it’s just hearing you look pretty.