The beauty part

Downtowner Marin Ireland glams up Broadway in reasons to be pretty.

Marin Ireland
WHEN IRELAND’S EYES ARE SMILING The intense performer has a serious moment.

Photo: Simon Kane

Do you think that actor Marin Ireland is cute? Insanely hot? What about meh, plain—just okay? Maybe you think she’s odd looking, not your idea of attractive at all. Such piggish evaluations are almost inevitable at Neil LaBute’s newest play, reasons to be pretty, which has transferred to Broadway after an Off Broadway run last season. In this four-person drama about trust and self-image, Ireland plays Steph, a young woman who goes postal after hearing that her boyfriend has described her face as “regular.” Steph may require someone who’s not a model, but hardly anyone who follows downtown theater would call Ireland ordinary. This talented (and, yes, attractive) performer has carved out a unique career in a series of dark, risky plays. The LaBute role could be her breakthrough.

Ireland can relate to Steph; she too deals with estimations of her looks. “Not to downplay what guys go through, but people will say the craziest stuff to actresses,” Ireland confides at an Upper West Side restaurant. “It’s understood that looks matter. I’ve had casting directors say to me that I need a makeover, that I’m not pretty enough or quirky enough. It’s hard to take; you think, I’d obviously not try out for that part, because it’s the hot chick.” She says that Steph is a tricky figure who could be perceived as overreacting, but she’s not just a vain shrew or nutjob. “This is a person suffering from a low-grade fever she didn’t know she had,” the actor muses. “It’s like you can be depressed for a long time and not know it; you just feel crappy all the time.”

The native of Camarillo, California, has lived in New York since 2000, when she made her debut in Adam Rapp’s Nocturne at New York Theatre Workshop. Her role? “The Red-Headed Girl,” who appears in one scene naked and has no lines. Marin remembered the casting call where director Marcus Stern outlined the job requirements, and several women left. But Ireland stayed for the audition, fascinated by the text and the art-installation set designed by Christine Jones. In succeeding years, she has appeared in work by Caryl Churchill, Sarah Kane and Brooke Berman, playing everything from a mentally fragile rape victim (Blasted) to a predatory young litterateur (Manuscript).

“Honestly, I feel grateful and lucky,” Ireland says when asked if she wishes she could play more classical or glamorous roles. “When you think about school, when you dreamed about doing the classics, it’s because you couldn’t conceive of other kinds of parts. It’s like the classics are stand-ins for the kinds of things you want to explore as an actor.”

Ireland’s previous gig was the hot-ticket New York premiere of Blasted, the late Sarah Kane’s 1995 shocker that depicts a litany of stomach-turning violence and violation. That production might not have happened without Ireland. Kane’s brother, Simon, who handles the rights to her plays, had been making the rounds in 2006 to New York’s nonprofits to see if there was interest in the show. He even crashed on Ireland’s couch for two months (they became friends after she appeared in Kane’s 4:48 Psychosis at St. Ann’s Warehouse). Despite glad-handing and vague promises, not one venue would seal the deal (for fear of alienating subscribers). That’s when Sarah Benson and Soho Rep stepped in. “I was doing a workshop of a Jason Grote play at Soho Rep in May ’07,” Ireland recalls. “It started very naturalistically then gets insane and very intense. I told Sarah, 'This reminds me a lot of Blasted.’ And she said, 'Yeah, I can see that. I love that play. I’d do it in a second.’ I was like, 'Really?!’”

Simon Kane never pitched Soho Rep because former artistic director Daniel Aukin had left and Benson hadn’t yet come on board. Ireland brokered a meeting and got the project underway. Theater cognoscenti who had been waiting years for a New York Blasted rejoiced. When the production opened to ecstatic reviews and lines down the block, one hoped the nonprofits that had passed were green with envy and red with shame—but perhaps more interested in this Ireland character.

Of course, if acting (or shadow-producing) doesn’t pan out, Ireland could get work choreographing smackdowns. “When I was in college, stage combat was something I loved,” Ireland says. “I apprenticed myself to my teacher and he taught me some basics. I’ve done fight arrangements for a few of my shows: Bad Jazz and The Beebo Brinker Chronicles.” It makes sense that a performer so physically fearless has an action-hero side to her rsum. Still, Ireland usually plays the one who gets hit. But in theater, she reminds us, it’s the one who takes the punch who has to sell it.

reasons to be pretty is playing at the Lyceum Theatre.

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