|Chris Petty and Megan Marie Brown in
Reasons To Be Pretty. Photo – The Bard’s Town.
Entire contents are copyright ©2013 Rachel White. All rights reserved.
Reasons to Be Pretty opens on a shouting match between two lovers: Greg (Doug Schutte) and Stephanie (Cara McHugh), his girlfriend. The play, written by Neil LaBute, uses highly-realistic dialogue to capture the out-of-control nature of arguments like these and of relationships in general. It’s not a typical theater fight you’ll witness, or a carefully drawn comical sitcom fight; it is a drag-out fistfight with words, and the actors pull it off in a way that feels authentic. Emotional arguments between humans that involve hurt feelings can be ugly things. They don’t contain a nice climax and resolution, they don’t wax poetic or philosophical, and sometimes the “F” bomb suffices when there is nothing left to be said. In this case, the fight goes on and on, getting louder, twisting and turning, while the characters involved cling onto any mean hurtful barb they can reach. It’s a true jolt of an opening for a play. There is no beginning to this argument; it’s as though we happen in on the middle of it, like watching it through an apartment window and trying to piece together what has happened.
What we learn through the snatches of information, amid the snarling, is that Stephanie has heard from a friend that Greg has said something negative about the way she looks, implying that she is not as pretty as other girls. It was a stupid comment, but it is something that Stephanie takes as a personal assault. In her view Greg, of all people, is supposed to see her as beautiful, and if he doesn’t, what is left between them? What Greg views as stupid and offhand, Stephanie sees as unforgivable. Greg will spend the rest of the play kicking himself in a story that tries to grapple with the problem of beauty and what it means in the context of a relationship.
From there, the play loses some of that authenticity. It pushes to be a little more philosophical at the expense of some character and plot development. We meet the couple’s friends: Kent (Chris Petty), a mean spirited chauvinist; and his very pretty girl friend, Carly (Megan Brown). Kent seems almost too mean to be realistic and their relationship feels sketchy in some places. I also feel like the author lets Greg off a little easy, as though his biggest flaw was his occasional obliviousness. And maybe it’s my melancholy heart, but he seemed a bit too satisfied with how things turned out at the end; I didn’t quite buy it. This seems more of a writer issue than an actor issue. At the same time, the structure of the piece captures the tumult of a relationship at its end in a way that rings true. There is one scene where Steph and Greg meet again accidentally. What begins in friendly awkwardness escalates into full-out violence. Stephanie literally hits Greg in the face and then immediately apologizes, horrified by her own lack of control.
The acting is really what pulls you in with this piece. With less able performers, the play might have descended into screaming and cursing. But there is realism in the fights and a real pain underneath the words that the performers are aware of. Schutte is completely believable as the somewhat hapless Greg, who despite having a nice heart just can’t say the right thing. McHugh, with her utterly unchecked aggression, is ferocious as Stephanie; and when she is in a scene, nothing is off the table. Brown and Petty also deliver spirited emotional performances. The actors find what is original and dangerous about this work, exploring the damage ordinary people can inflict on one another.
June 20-23, 27-29 (All shows at 7:30 p.m.)
$15 ($12 for students and seniors)
Reserve tickets at thebardstown.com