reasons to be pretty at Profiles Theatre | Theater review

Neil LaBute's play about the potential consequences of describing one's S.O. as regular-looking is largely standard-issue LaButean bad behavior, though colored by an intriguing class consciousness.

Photograph: Wayne KarlTHE REGULARS Cox and Nalepa fight it out.

It’s a little hard to discern the precise message of LaBute’s 2009 play (his first Broadway production, now in its Chicago debut). Much of the piece seems to be a cautionary tale about the potential consequences of describing one’s S.O. as regular-looking. In the initial scene, for instance, Steph (Nalepa) melts down incandescently, berating boyfriend Greg (Cox); her friend Carly (Benson) has helpfully tipped her off that Greg’s compared her unfavorably to a coworker. By the end of reasons to be pretty, though, the incident has come to seem simply the straw that busted an already troubled relationship. Still, the author tacks on an unconvincing monologue for Greg, in which he lets us in on the truth that beauty only goes skin deep.

Much of all this is standard-issue LaButean bad behavior, though colored by an intriguing class consciousness: Greg’s interactions with nasty buddy Kent (Stolte) are routinely interrupted by the factory floor bell; Steph and Greg’s breakup takes place against the dismal backdrop of a food-court Panda Express. The penultimate scene, in which the ex-couple tries to sort out their history, strikes notes of unusual tenderness, suggesting the misanthropic writer may yet have surprises in store for us. Profiles’s ensemble digs deeply into the play’s paranoid, vulnerable quartet. Few actors in the city can play wounded masculinity better than Cox; whether raging at Carly for her backstabbing or tussling with Kent on the softball diamond, his Greg stays sympathetic, even if you might not want to date him.