Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Reasons to Be Pretty
With Reasons to Be Pretty, the Studio Theatre in Washington returns to playwright Neil LaBute's world of thorny, offhandedly cruel interpersonal relationships. Director David Muse and a sharp four-member ensemble ably dissect the characters' surface conflicts to reveal the core issues: the importance of a person's attractiveness to the people around him or her, and what that says about the person doing the observing.
Reasons to Be Pretty is the third part of LaBute's "beauty" trilogy, following Fat Pig, about a man ashamed to admit his attraction to an overweight woman, and The Shape of Things, which considers how a few offhand comments between lovers can lead to serious consequences. While all three plays have their share of vicious verbal attacks, this one also includes a physical confrontation noteworthy enough to recognize Robb Hunter for his fight choreography.
This play begins when Steph (Margot White) becomes furious with her boyfriend Greg (Ryan Artzberger) for disparaging her looks to his friend Kent (Thom Miller), as reported to her by Kent's wife Carly (Teresa Stephenson). Steph forces Greg to repeat what he said to Kent: did he call her ugly? No, he finally admits: he said her face is "regular," unlike a "hot" younger woman the men know at work. (She's a hairdresser, so she's touchy about the implication that she doesn't know what makes a woman look good.)
What, then, is the meaning of "pretty"? Is calling a woman's face "regular" an insult, and if it isn't, what does "regular" mean? For that matter, Greg spends the play trying to learn from his experiences, unlike cheerfully shallow Kent, who describes a good-looking 23-year-old woman as "just starting to fade a bit."
Artzberger has the pivotal role, and he manages to convey both Greg's surface self-confidence and the aimlessness underneath. White shines in a scene where Steph strikes back at Greg, while Miller and Stephenson depict a couple who get along fine as long as neither of them looks too closely at their relationship.