Monday, April 13, 2009

Sticks and Stones

reasons to be pretty
Written by Neil LaBute
Directed by Terry Kinney
Starring Marin Ireland, Stephen Pasquale, Piper Perabo, Thomas Sadoski

Performances from March 13, 2009
Lyceum Theater, 149 West 45th Street

Ireland and Sadoski in
reasons to be pretty
(photo: Robert J. Saferstein)
Neil LaBute’s reasons to be pretty has been revised since last spring’s successful off-Broadway run: not only is half the cast new, but there are changes to the script itself. As always, however, not everything has been improved.

LaBute’s trenchant play tracks the fallout from Greg’s foolish—if inadvertent—dissing of his plain girlfriend Steph by comparing her to a beautiful co-worker while talking with his friend Kent, whose wife Carly (who happens to be Steph’s best friend and overhears Greg‘s faux pas) immediately lets Steph know what he said. Needless to say, she blows her top in the play’s attention-grabbing opening scene, then breaks up with Greg, who must reconsider not only their relationship and his friendship with Kent, but also his long-held beliefs about women in general.

Off-Broadway, LaBute’s perceptive comic drama was intriguingly propped up by a schematic conceit—the play’s four characters each had one soliloquy to tell the audience how this brouhaha has affected them. Ironically, of these intelligent and sensitively written monologues, only Greg’s closing speech—if which gave him a platform from which to speak about our society’s obsession with beauty—was clunky and didactic.

Although LaBute has smartly cut Greg’s soapbox speech, he has unfortunately jettisoned the others as well, which may have been the democratic thing to do, but scattering parts of these soliloquies among the dialogue lessens their impact.

Otherwise, Terry Kinney’s still on-target production is buoyed, for the most part, by four good actors. Of the newcomers, Stephen Pasquale’s Kent is a more convincing chauvinist pig than Pablo Schreiber’s more caricatured take. Conversely, Alison Pill’s pretty much perfect Steph is now in Marin Ireland’s less able hands. Ireland plays her as a neurotic who already seems slightly unhinged. Whereas Pill made Steph’s initial overreaction believable, Ireland seems crazed enough to have anything set her off—if it wasn’t this unfortunate choice of words, it would have been something else. Pill also was heartbreaking in the play’s final scene—as Greg sees that she has moved on with her life at his expense—something which Ireland can‘t quite achieve.

Piper Perabo returns as the sympathetic Carly; too bad it’s the least interesting role LaBute has written. More happily, Thomas Sadoski is back as Greg: this hard-working and always credible actor has created an everyman that most viewers—male and female—will relate to. And now that the sermonizing soapbox is gone, Sadoski makes the defeated Greg far more moving at the end. There’s never a false note in Sadoski’s portrayal, which always avoids showiness or grandstanding to electrifying effect.

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