Directed by Rick Snyder
At Profiles Theatre, Chicago
Cautionary tale about how the meaning of words can destroy a relationship is powerfully presented.
Neil LaBute’s latest, Reasons to be Pretty, now in a strong staging at Profiles Theatre in a Chicago premiere, is a departure from the downer works LaBute has penned recently. This work is hopeful as it becomes a moral awakening for Greg (Darrell W. Cox), the lead character and narrator. Reasons looks at how 21st Century language doesn’t seem to allow us to communicate our true feeling, often getting us into trouble when we use a term that we find expressive but others find that term/word offensive. Misinterpretation of words and phrases plays large in LaBute’s working class, blue collar relationship drama.
Greg, an insecure yet decent 30something warehouse worker, in speaking about a new worker he referred to her as “pretty” further saying that she was unlike his live-in girl Steph (Darci Nalepa) who was “regular.” The storm erupts when Carly (Somer Benson), a security guard and friend of Steph informs her of Greg’s use of words.
The opening scene is pure LaBute: screaming, foul language, rage and slurring of insults that will make your hair curl mostly from Steph as Greg tries to explain, apologize and soften Steph’s rage. Steph and Greg are over as a couple. The result of describing Steph’s face as “regular.”
Kent (a terrific return to the stage by Christian Stolte), the macho male chauvinist pig whose rationalizations and narcissism allows him to justify anything, including cheating on his pregnant wife, Carly. Kent is the loud-mouthed worker bent on bossing around passive guys like Greg. Much of Kent’s dialogue is filled with raunchy sexual slurs and self-justifying rationalizations. Greg sure is learning from Kent. Greg confronts Carly as to why she told Steph about Greg’s remarks.
The tight-knit circle crumples after Steph meets Greg in a mall food court. Greg brings flowers to make peace; Steph bring as scathing written list of all Greg’s physical short comings. This darkly funny, yet rage-filled monologue was a litany of physical defects often over looked when one person loves another. But, once loves turns to rage, those physical peculiarities become instantly intolerable. This is LaBute at his best. Nalepa’s delivery was spot-on.
LaBute utilizes his normal themes of dominance, anger, revenge while highlighting our contemporary perception of physical beauty in shaping our lives. We how terms like “regular” and “pretty” can act as a dagger to the heart of insecure low-self-esteemed individuals. We also see that Greg realizes the power of words as his dreams of a reconciliation with Steph are finished in a poignant, romantic ‘good-bye’ scene that will tug you heartstrings. I never thought I’d witness such a scene in a LaBute play!
The pace is swift, the acting first-class (especially from Darrel W. Cox and Christian Stolte) and LaBute’s script is raw, realistic and relevant. Reasons to be Pretty is authentic Chicago style theatre.
At Profile Theatre, 4147 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL, tickets $35 – $40, Wednesdays thru Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 5 & 8 pm, Sundays at 7 pm, running time is 95 minutes with intermission, through March 13, 2011