Reasons To Be Pretty
Every performance of one of the "beauty plays" by Neil LaBute that the Dallas Theater Center shows in repertory in their studio theater is followed by a "cast-audience talk-back." They should be followed by a chemical scrub and complimentary relationship counseling.
I mean this in the best possible way. Some playwrights are merely gadflies who provoke for provocation's sake. But you sense a personal connection between LaBute and his topics, as if he's working out his own issues onstage. His characters tend to be identifiable but unrelatable, like a rare species of bacterium. There's real pain here, and he doesn't care how uncomfortable it makes you feel to witness it.
Of the three plays - Fat Pig and The Shape of Things have already opened - the one with the least pretension is Reasons to Be Pretty. It's the only one set amid working-class folks, not ivory tower upper-crusters or navel-gazing academics, and the central issues are familiar: Steph (Christina Vela) breaks up with her longtime boyfriend Greg (Lee Trull) when a friend, Carly (Abbey Siegworth), rats him out for saying Steph is not as pretty as the new girl at work. Greg wishes he could take it back (he does love her), but the damage is done.
Meanwhile, Greg's oldest friend, Kent (Regan Adair) is cheating on Carly with the new girl, making Greg lie for him. The men here are awful (you pick: the sniveler or the bully?), but as usual with LaBute, the women are awful-er - monstrous witches who are all pre-menstrual ids, incapable of logic or empathy who delight in public humiliation; all of them are quite dumb as well. (Greg reads classic literature, but it's unclear whether he gets any of it.)
LaBute, assisted by the able cast (Adair especially is a chameleon) and director Joel Ferrell, has perfected the art of passive aggression, toying with the audience as mercilessly as the characters toy with each other, setting verbal traps and all around making you feel a little dirty. But the flashes of recognition - how these characters intrude on the facts of our own relationships - border on the profound. You don't exactly enjoy Reasons to Be Pretty, but, like the audition weeks of American Idol, it's difficult to look away.
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REASONS TO BE PRETTY
Performed in repertory with FAT?PIG and THE?SHAPE?OF?THINGS at the Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora St. Through May 23. For complete schedule visit DallasTheaterCenter.com.