Tuesday, June 9, 2009

reasons to be pretty

Gratuitous Violins rating: ***1/2 out of ****

Usually when I read about a new show coming to Broadway I'm at least a little bit intrigued. But when I heard about reasons to be pretty, by Neil LaBute, I was not interested. I knew that some of his work, like In the Company of Men, included male characters who treated women badly and I didn't think I'd enjoy his plays.

But several of my fellow bloggers and theatergoing friends who saw reasons to be pretty enjoyed it and I respect their opinons. On Saturday evening, several of us were gathered at Angus McIndoe for a preshow dinner and I mentioned that I didn't yet have a ticket to see anything the next day.

So everyone at the table (including me) wrote down on a slip of paper what they thought I should see. We put all the slips in a glass and I picked out reasons to be pretty. (Turns out it got two votes.)

On Sunday morning, I stood in the play line and bought my first half-price ticket at the TKTS booth - fourth row orchestra on the aisle - for reasons to be pretty at the Lyceum Theatre. And I am so glad I did. What a terrific play, what a terrific cast. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed it. I'm so sorry it's closing on Sunday.

Now, this story of four young, working-class characters might not be everyone's taste. There's a lot of profanity. I know we've become desensitized to the f-word. But realistically, do people swear that much in everyday life? And I couldn't quite believe a very public argument that occurs in a very public place.

Still, LaBute has some very witty lines. And while the behavior he depicts is pretty reprehensible and extreme at times, it rings true to life. Characters in this play say things that are hurtful but they're things I've definitely heard people say. There's also a lot of humor and I laughed - a lot.

Reasons to be pretty is often described as a play about our obsession with physical beauty. And an offhand remark that Thomas Sadoski's Greg makes about the looks of his girlfriend Steph (played by Marin Ireland) sets the action off in an explosive fashion that's both brutal and hilarious.

But rather than a story about physical beauty, I think of it more as Greg's coming-of-age story. Sadoski, who received a Tony nomination along with Ireland, is so adorable and likable as Greg, who moves giant cartons around a Costco-like warehouse at night to earn a living. Ireland is wonderful as a spitfire of a woman who's maybe acting irrationally but clearly feels hurt.

Rounding out the cast are Steven Pasquale as Kent, Greg's rougher-edged coworker; and Piper Perabo, as Carly, Kent's wife, who works with the men as a security guard. In real life, I'm sure Pasquale is a doll but he's so good playing a reprehensible character. And Perabo's Carly is very sweet - the kind of woman who makes you think, what is she doing with him?

But what I loved the most about reasons to be pretty is the way Greg evolves throughout the play. He begins to see his future and the people around him in a different way. He becomes more confident. And watching him change, come into his own, is a thrilling experience. Sadoski is so good - he wins your heart and you truly feel for him and cheer him on.

So I'm woman enough to admit that I was wrong about Neil LaBute - he's written a young, sensitive male character who treats women very well. I hope we get a sequel because I'd like to know what happens to Greg. I'm betting he'll make an excellent husband and father.


Pam said...

Isn't it exciting when you see something you weren't sure about and end up LOVING it. As you know that happened to me with Spring Awakening and I still can't get that show out of my mind! Glad you enjoyed it!

Chris said...

Esther, I am so glad that you chose to follow up on the recommendation and that you seemed to wind up thoroughly enjoying the play!
I agree with your comments both on Sadoski, who was completely fabulous, and his character. I was surprised how underrated he was because watching his progression throughout the play was the ultimate highlight of the evening for me.

Esther said...

Hey Pam,
Now I know exactly how you felt with Spring Awakening. I definitely had reservations about reasons to be pretty but I loved it and I'm definitely still thinking about it. You're right - it's so great when that happens. ;-)

Much better than going in thinking you'll love a show and leaving disappointed. ;-(

Esther said...

Hey Chris,

Well I'm so glad you and Kevin suggested it! I really did thoroughly enjoy reasons to pretty and I'm so sorry it never caught on. I mean, it's just so hilarious and true to life.

And Thomas Sadoski makes Greg such an appealing, sympathetic character. I agree about him being underrated. He's definitely an actor I want to see on stage again. And Steven Pasquale, too. He does such a great job of playing a creep!

In fact, I think I may even like it a bit better than God of Carnage. Although GOC does have a terrific cast and is very funny, too. But I just find myself thinking more about r2bp.