Regional Reviews: Phoenix
LaBute is well known for his explosive dramatic exposes into modern romance and relationships, including In the Company of Men and Fat Pig. Many of his works often center on the issue of beauty and the cruelty of people. Reasons to Be Pretty, LaBute's only play to make it to Broadway, where it received a Best Play Tony nomination, keeps those two topics constantly in the forefront. It also starts off with a bang. Greg and Steph have been a couple for four years but Steph is enraged and ready to walk out because she has discovered that Greg made a lame remark to his best friendthat he only thinks Steph's looks are average. Through a non-stop barrage of profanity, Steph's pain is undeniable while Greg's non-committal attitude and belief that what he said, or didn't say, wasn't that big of a deal only increases her anger. Over the course of the play Greg and Steph will grow and learn from this moment while another couple, Greg's best friend Kent and his beautiful wife Carly, will face tensions of their own.
MET's cast features exceptional work by Brandi Bigley as Steph; she creates an incredibly well-rounded, realistic woman full of pain and vulnerability. While Steph at first comes across as a foul-mouthed, hateful person, Bigley interjects so much sensitivity and softness that we immediately understand how hurt she is. Based on Bigley's nuanced and clear portrayal, we also quickly become Steph's champion based on what she does to try to overcome and come to grips with this reality check. As Greg, Mitch Tellez is OK, delivering a very laid-back, low-key interpretation of this young man who is incredibly well read but can barely form an intelligible sentence. Tellez's soft-spoken delivery is very subdued and at many times he appears to be disengaged from those around him.
While LaBute doesn't make all of his character's actions entirely clear, he does deliver a positive ending, though we don't ever quite believe from Tellez's performance that Greg has come to accept that what he said was wrong. Also, Tellez could use a touch more projection, as many of his lines are somewhat difficult to hear even though MET's Black Box space is a very small space. Though his performance leaves a bit to be desired, the final scenes with his three castmates are quite good, with Tellez almost blossoming from the downcast, subdued man we saw before. These moments paint Greg in a more positive light, which makes you root for him to have a happy ending, much in the same way that you've hoped that Steph also ends up in a good place.
As Kent and Carly, Phillip Herrington and Jillian Walker both do very good work. Herrington creates an appropriately ugly character as the handsome jock who is getting older yet still lives for his past conquestsboth athletic and sexual. Walker delivers a stunning monologue on the many downfalls of being pretty and, like Bigley, infuses Carly with empathy.
Director Layne Racowsky does well in ensuring the heavier moments of the piece are balanced with humor and that her actors deliver realistic portrayals. Racowsky and Jason K. Walz's set design uses a static set and several moving pieces for the various locations of the piece and while it isn't a completely successful design it works for the small space.
Reasons to be Pretty is a captivating study of our obsession with beauty and how our constant striving for physical perfection involves just as many shortcomings as it does positive aspects. LaBute paints a fascinating tale with interesting characters, and MET's production makes for a stirring and intriguing dialogue of what is probably his most accessible and effective play. LaBute makes us see that, while beauty may only be skin deep, there are just as many reasons for people to wish they were pretty as there are drawbacks for those who are beautiful to wish they weren't.
Reasons to Be Pretty runs at Mesa Encore Theatre through June 18th, 2017 with performances at the MET Black Box Theatre at 933 East Main Street in Mesa. Tickets can be ordered by calling (480) 644-6500 or at mesaencoretheatre.com.
Producer: Jason K. Walz