reasons to be pretty

Neil LaBute takes on the beauty myth

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

Neil LaBute has beauty in his sights, and his aim is pretty sharp. In 2004's Fat Pig, the misanthropic auteur sketched an atypically gentle portrait of a man too cowed by other people's judgments to pursue the plus-size girl he might love; now, in the insightful and absorbing reasons to be pretty, LaBute expands on the earlier play's themes, as well as on its relatively generous tone. The contemptuous sneer so common to the playwright's work yields to a more bittersweet expression: the tight-lipped, grin-and-bear-it mask of wisdom acquired too late.

True, the supporting characters in reasons to be pretty are familiar LaBute types: Kent (Pasquale), a bullying macho brute, and his beautiful, stupidly confident wife, Carly (Perabo). But the central figure of Greg, played with soulful frustration by the impressive Thomas Sadoski, is the rare LaBute male who seems capable of real introspection and growth; and as Greg's girlfriend, Steph, Marin Ireland is touchingly vulnerable even when screaming streams of profane abuse, as in the play's energized opening scene. The catalyst of the plot is Greg's comment to Kent that he loves Steph even though her face is "just regular"— an assessment that is meant as a compliment, but which rips at her scabby self-esteem. In Terry Kinney's production, Steph's intense reaction seems both irrational and understandable; her pain is the price Greg pays for allowing his vision to be filtered through the lens of Kent's drooling misogyny. LaBute takes the old saw that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and gives it new teeth.—Adam Feldman

Lyceum Theatre. By Neil LaBute. Dir. Terry Kinney. With Thomas Sadoski, Marin Ireland, Steven Pasquale, Piper Perabo. 2hrs. One intermission.