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reasons to be pretty
Duke City Repertory Theatre

A Separate Peace
Abe Jallad and Lauren Myers
Playwright Neil LaBute's works often portray the gritty and sometimes cruel aspects of human nature, and LaBute is well known for his character-driven plays about the complexity of human interactions. reasons to be pretty, which ran on Broadway for just three months in 2009, was recently produced by the Duke City Repertory Company at The Filling Station, and certainly fits these descriptions. Steph, the lead woman played by Lauren Myers, worries that her boyfriend Greg, the protagonist played by Abe Jallad, doesn't find her attractive. This tension sets the stage for an exploration of human relationships that is part comedy, part drama, and includes affairs, pregnancy, marriage, and the big question: how important is physical appearance when it comes to love?

The Filling Station is a 98-person capacity garage-turned-art-space off Central Avenue that can be a challenge to find if you've never been there before (ask me how I know). The theatre space itself is in black box style. The audience sits on either side of an inclined platform stage in the center that suggests metaphorical blocking and serves to portray moral conflicts or power structures in almost every scene. The setting is intimate; the first row of seats sits not six feet from the edge of the stage. The production features a four-person ensemble cast and minimal props, costumes and scenery. The play is character-driven, not plot-driven, and while the loose plot that is in place is interesting, the character development dominates the performance more than plot progression.

The actors' performances make the production worthwhile. The opening scene begins with Greg standing alone onstage on the verge of an emotional breakdown. His body begins to slump as his face contorts, drawing the audience into this intense, private moment. There are several explosive, curse-ridden fights in the play, at times devolving into physical altercations. While producing a convincing fight in such close proximity to the audience can be challenging, the fights are choreographed and acted well and ultimately feel natural. I usually find excessive cursing unbelievable, but the performances are convincing and the emotion behind the words is real. The conversational dialogue throughout the play feels incredibly natural and signals great talent and experience on the part of the playwright, director and actors.

Jallad's performance is the highlight of the production. He is honest, intriguing, and does justice to the complexity his character's internal and external conflicts. His acting is subtle but rich, and very relatable. The rest of the cast is also impressive. Greg's sexually driven friend Kent is a bit one-dimensional, but actor Frank Green plays him with great passion and abandon. Both Myers and Merritt Glover, who plays Kent's wife Carly, give genuinely funny and touching performances. As an ensemble, the four work well together, and I'd be happy to see any of them again in future productions.

reasons to be pretty, directed by Amelia Ampuero, was presented by Duke City Repertory Theatre. Performances ran August 18 - 28, 2011, at The Filling Station.

--Sarah Parro



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