Four people on a stage dancing around each other verbally and emotionally to render a message: What is the point of physical allure in our lives? Is it good? Is it destructive? How does it affect a sense of who we are, the partners we end up with, our station in life?
That is the arc of Neil LaBute’s raw and free-form “Reasons to Be Pretty” at the Southampton Cultural Center. In one sense, it is a traditional play with a dizzying number of scenes (eight) and soliloquies (four). But scrape below the sketchy plot and it’s really a long disquisition in dramatic form about the nature of beauty and man’s reaction to it.
In Mr. LaBute’s earthy script, beauty doesn’t necessarily win. Or does it? He supplies no answer but leaves it up to you to ponder.
The play opens with a most foul-mouthed screaming match as Steph (Bethany Dellapolla) lays into her live-in boyfriend, Greg (Jonathan Fogarty), as she has just heard from her friend that he called her face “regular.” He barely gets a chance to explain that the rest of the sentence was that he wouldn’t trade her in for anyone else—but that matters not.
Steph doesn’t feel pretty to him. Will she always be compared to someone better looking? That’s enough to walk out on a four-year relationship, despite Greg’s protestations.
The seemingly innocent comment arose at work—a warehouse—when Greg’s loutish friend, Kent (John Lovett), was making much over the new and gorgeous 23-year-old who just started working in shipping. Kent’s attractive wife, Carly (Bethany Trowbridge), also works at the warehouse, as a guard—perhaps she was promoted because she is good looking—and is a close friend of Steph, who works at a beauty salon. Carly overheard the remark, phoned Steph seemingly with only the bit about her “regular” face, and there you have it.
So why did Carly pass this on, anyway? Didn’t she hear the rest? Shouldn’t she have kept her mouth shut? Not in Mr. LaBute’s brutish world in this dark comedy, which is way more dark than comedic.
These four working-class friends and lovers brush up against each other, revealing truths and ripping open scabs along the way. Kent will be a first-class bastard and dive headlong into an affair with the shipping clerk. Carly will have her own comeuppance at the worst possible time.
Steph will humiliate Greg in a public place, even as we wonder if she still loves him or not. With Steph standing on a chair as she bellows out an unrelenting takedown of Greg’s physical attributes, this lengthy scene is both the harshest and the funniest of the night. Mr. Fogarty’s facial expressions are amusing in that way we understand somebody else’s reasons to squirm; Ms. Dellapolla is loud, sad and mad here, and always compelling. It’s a far cry from her amusing turn as the teapot in Southampton Cultural Center’s recent staging of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.” From her opening diatribe to a touching scene near the end, Ms. Dellapolla gives a helluva performance.
Mr. Fogarty (LeFou in “Beauty”) has a harder part to realize, for the writing makes his character murky—is he strong or is he weak? We don’t know till the end.
Greg turns out to be a softie with smarts who dreams of escaping his lot as a schmo who works the nasty third shift, a goal foreshadowed by the obvious writers he brings to read during breaks (Poe, Hawthorne, Swift). Even there, Mr. LaBute hammers home his theme, for Greg’s choice of Hawthorne’s oeuvre, “The Birthmark,” is a little-read short story that examines man’s obsession with human perfection.
“Reasons” is the third play in Mr. LaBute’s trilogy about the impact of beauty, good and bad. Each character here addresses the audience in a lengthy monologue about how physical appearance affected each of them personally; all were eliminated from the play’s short run on Broadway. Given the down-to-earth, lower-class dialogue for which Mr. LaBute has such a good ear—his father was a long-haul truck-driver—these are a tad preachy.
Especially Greg’s. His comes at the very end of the play, just before that he has a touching scene with Carly. His speech unexpectedly ends with a message that comes off as Sunday schoolish.
Joan Lyons directed this noisy bag of accusation, retribution and reconciliation with verve and consistency. A bold choice for January in the Hamptons, it is a welcome relief to the winter outside the door.
When I came home Saturday night, the current New York Times Magazine made itself visible. Written across the cover photograph of a gorgeous yellow, brown and green bird were the words: “What Is Beauty For?”
Darwin wrote that there may be something more at work than evolutionary benefit in choosing handsome mates, that something like conscious capriciousness may be involved when birds choose the most colorful, aka beautiful, mates. Maybe they do it for their own sense of beauty.
Derided at the time he wrote it, Darwin’s theory is no longer dismissed—making “Reasons” all the more timely.
The Center Stage production of Neil LaBute’s “Reasons to Be Pretty” continues through January 27 at the Southampton Cultural Center, 25 Pond Lane, Southampton. Shows are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $25, or $12 for students. Visit scc-arts.org.
To see what’s new, click “Start the Tour” to take a tour.
We welcome your feedback. Please click the
“contact/advertise” link in the menu bar to email us.
One fine body…