Marin Ireland, Steven Pasquale, Piper Perabo, Thomas Sadoski
Thanks to an improved script, Neil LaBute’s reasons to be pretty, which recently transferred to Broadway after an off-Broadway run last summer, presents an audience with more reasons to laugh, cry, and generally feel for its characters.
The play, which focuses on Greg, a down-and-out third-shifter at a factory, and Steph, the girlfriend he’s just called “regular” (worse than “ugly”), is the third in LaBute’s trilogy on body image, which began with The Shape of Things and continued with Fat Pig.
After years of writing nearly a play a year, LaBute finally is finally having, with reasons, his Broadway debut.
And if it seems a little out of place on the Great White Way (it’s a play with a small cast, and its scenery, a blown-up version of its off-Broadway version, feels a bit anemic in comparison to its downtown incarnation), still it represents some of LaBute’s best writing.
The play begins with a burst of rage as Steph rails against Greg for his transgressions. While he was at his coworker friend Kent’s house, he used the verboten R-word only to be overheard by Kent’s wife Carly, the factory security guard. From there, the story plays out fairly predictably, with some subtle twists and turns as suit each character. What keeps an audience hooked is the specificity of character LaBute employs, which never allows these four men and women descend into caricature. Still one wishes the play had a little bit more than just amped-up gender rivalry going for it.
LaBute has similarly succeeded in grounding the play in a sense of its characters’ circumstances. Scenes are punctuated by the sounds of the factory buzzer and by pounding rock music (sound and music design are by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen). And, at all times, the proceedings are framed aesthetically by scenic designer David Gallo’s immense factory shelving, pallets of products stretching across the stage overhead and to either side.
The play benefits from the excision of four clunky monologues (one for each character), which hindered the play off-Broadway, forcing it into saccharine sweetness at times, particularly at its close. Now, reasons feels less full of look-what-I’ve-learned didactics and more concerned with the natural complexities of its characters.
The cast, for the most part, latches onto this change and runs with it. Two of the actors have carried over from the off-Broadway production, and two are newcomers. As Greg, Thomas Sadoski, who shone off-Broadway as well, is really the heart of the play. It’s his journey we want to follow, and he leads us through it with ample humor, with the gait of a regular guy we as an audience can relate to.
On the other hand, Marin Ireland, who replaces Alison Pill as Steph, throws the dynamic of the production off-kilter in ways that make the play more lopsided than it had been. When Pill inhabited the role of Steph, the natural place for our sympathies to gravitate was murkier and more compelling. Even after his R-word gaffe, Greg seems a totally likable character, or at the very least one we can understand. But Steph, who’s reeling after the dissolution of her self-confidence, should be equally sympathetic if not more so, and Ireland, who has excellent comic timing, plays the role with a cartoonish laugh-a-minute sitcom style that seems at odds with the rest of the cast – and with the text.
As the supporting couple, newcomer Steven Pasquale as misogynistic Kent and reasons vet Piper Perabo as pretty-faced Carly, are both welcome presences on-stage.
It’s difficult to drag LaBute’s play down, but Ireland manages to do just that. It’s not that she’s not entertaining, but the characters that the playwright has written to exude such loving eccentricities because of her now seem flatter. The play is still consistently fun to watch and ultimately rewarding, but it’s a shame that, while the text has been mined for its riches for its Broadway transfer, it doesn’t get the support it deserves from one of its leading players.
Read the musicOMH review of reasons to be pretty off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, 2008
Read the musicOMH feature: Neil LaBute: Monologues and Mormonism