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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Review- reasons to be pretty (MCC Theater)

The Fab Marquee review by David Stallings.

Neil LaBute has been on the tip of most people’s tongue for over a decade now. Whenever audiences think of contemporary theater and current playwrights, he is surely one of the first names to be dropped. It is not surprising then that many people are dubious and often question the accuracy of the statement, “This season’s reasons to be pretty is LaBute’s Broadway debut.” The Shape of Things, already a hallmark of modern theater, never even made it to the great white way. And the only plausible explanation is that the theater community at large does not trust people under forty to buy a ticket. That must be the excuse for the parade of classics that make up the non-musical list of plays on Broadway each season. I saw a documentary recently that commented on the golden age of Broadway and how decades ago one could walk down the street and see Williams and O’Neal produced at the same time. Unfortunately, that is still the case. We are stuck in Williams and O’Neal. Luckily for LaBute, MCC, and younger generations who wish to be represented in theater and not just by reality television, reasons to be pretty hits audiences young and old.

Thomas Sadoski (Greg) and Marin Ireland (Steph)
photo credit: Robert J Saferstein

Audiences familiar with LaBute are guaranteed the same quick, witty, cutting dialogue spiked with male camaraderie that has marked his misanthropic voice as a writer. What will catch you by surprise is the journey of maturity that his male protagonist, Greg (Thomas Sadoski), embarks upon by force. Traditionally, only those with the hardest of shells fair best in LaBute’s world, but this play varies from his misanthropic norm. The play starts off like a shot as we are allowed to enter mid fight into the home of Greg and his girlfriend, Steph (Marin Ireland). Steph and Greg argue viscously over a conversation tattled third hand—one which Greg is not even sure he recalls. Unfortunately, Greg finally remembers accurately that perhaps he said Steph has a “regular face”. This of course is precisely the comment relayed to Steph, and Greg is mind-boggled as to why this particular phrase would bother her—after all, he said it in the best context…meaning that he loved his “regular face" girlfriend as opposed to a pretty counterpart. Later, he is even more confused when her tattling friend (and his coworker) Carly (Piper Perabo) implies that Steph has left him. Kent (Steven Pasquale), Greg’s best friend and Carly’s husband, shows Greg that he should be better at hiding male inconsistencies and only put forward the best face—even if it is a dishonest one. For several scenes, the play seems to center around flavorful discussions over that one misplaced phrase, and the damage it inflicts upon a cast of characters all too immature to see the honest feelings behind inarticulate language. With a pedestrian vernacular, LaBute is attempting to get to the core of a blue collared humanity that hits levels with every audience member. In Act 2, when the play leaves the topic of the “regular face”, Greg truly evolves. He accepts responsibility for his actions and the influence they bear on others. The play takes off at this point, hitting more levels than expected from Act 1. The final scene is packed with a wallop that will break your heart and make you want to pat LaBute on the back. He finally wrote a play with an adult male—and it is more than effective. Even though the end is not a happy one, audiences leave proud of their protagonist.

Thomas Sadoski (Greg) and Piper Perabo (Carly)
photo credit: Robert J Saferstein

The cast is sublime all around—directed with rapid-fire rhythm by the talented Terry Kinney. Thomas Sadoski is the perfect everyman, bearing an inner sensitivity that is both masculine and touching. But it is Marin Ireland who steals the show as the spitfire Steph. Marin takes a role fueled by anger and gives it vulnerability. The result is a Tony nominated performance that will hopefully put her on the map for years to come. Steven Pasquale does his best to add humanity to the shallow Kent. And Piper Perabo, best known for her role in "Coyote Ugly", translates well to the stage in a role that has hidden depths.

Steven Pasquale (Kent) and Thomas Sadoski (Greg)
photo credit: Robert J Saferstein

The only way that we as the younger generations of theater can be included on more than a pop musical level, is by guaranteeing that plays with our voices can draw an audience. Without a National Theater, we are indebted to companies such as MCC for taking a “risk” with new, edgy material. Any young New Yorker pursuing a career in theater must go to reasons to be pretty. Buy a ticket, and ensure that a generation is not skipped because "The Bachelor" and "American Idol" are somehow more compelling. Perhaps then, more writers will use dialogue like LaBute instead of over edited images to really tell a story. Broadway houses have gone out of their way to lower prices and offer deals. Though I would hardly call LaBute a risk, his sharp, brutal analysis of the contemporary everyman has finally made its way to Broadway. Let’s keep him there.

*Nominated for 3 Tony Awards (Best Play; Best Actor, Thomas Sadoski; Best Featured Actress, Marin Ireland).

Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, MCC Theater, Gary Goddard Entertainment, Ted Snowdon, Doug Nevin/Erica Lynn Schwartz, Ronald Frankel/Bat-Barry Productions, Kathleen Seidel, Kelpie Arts LLC, Jam Theatricals, Rachel Helson/Heather Provost, Soctt M. Delman, present

MCC Theater's
reasons to be pretty
by Neil LaBute
with Marin Ireland, Steven Pasquale, Piper Perabo and Thomas Sadoski

directed by Terry Kinney Lyceum Theatre

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

Lyceum Theatre | 149 West 45th Street | Manhattan.

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