Review: ‘Reasons to be Pretty’ at SF Playhouse

(Steven Gray)

(Rating: *****)

(“Reasons to be Pretty” plays at the San Francisco Playhouse from March 30th through May 11th.)

Neil LaBute‘s “Reasons to be Pretty”  premiered on Broadway in 2008 and was awarded a Tony in 2009. Like his funny and brutal screenplay, “In The Company of Men”, it deals with relations between the sexes and our obsession with appearance.

That obsession is so common, and has been around for so long, it is engrained in the human condition. But it is something of a smokescreen as far as this play is concerned. I think the elephant in the room is the phenomenon of the modern “psycho-bitch” (a term I first heard from a woman who was referring to her boyfriend’s sister).

Live-in couple Greg (Craig Marker, left) and Steph (Lauren English) fight when she learns he described her looks as "regular" in Neil LaBute's "Reasons To Be Pretty" at SF Playhouse. Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli
Live-in couple Greg (Craig Marker, left) and Steph (Lauren English) fight when she learns he described her looks as “regular” in Neil LaBute’s “Reasons To Be Pretty” at SF Playhouse. Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli

The comedy begins with a domestic dispute which is so over the top and one sided, it was like watching a car wreck as a woman in full fury lacerates a man with whom she has lived for four years. He doesn’t know what hit him or what he did to warrant this whirlwind of curses and insults.  It’s depressing how much he takes from her, like a doormat/sponge.  And all because in a conversation with his buddy in a garage he referred to his girlfriend as having “regular” features.  This was overheard by his buddy’s wife, Carly, and relayed to the girlfriend, Stephanie. Then all hell breaks loose.  How dare he speak in less than chivalrous terms about the fair damsel with a potty mouth?

The boyfriend, Greg, is a sensitive schlub who works in a warehouse with his buddy, Kent (Patrick Russell) and Carly, a security guard (Jennifer Stuckert).  Greg (in a very nuanced performance by Craig Marker) actually reads books and doesn’t like lying to women.  Kent is practically a sociopath in that respect.  What does it mean to have equality if Stephanie (Lauren English) can have a meltdown over this, especially considering that if she referred to him as regular-looking he wouldn’t blink an eye?  She tries to play a sensitive feminine card, but is closer to a “truck driver in drag” (to quote Truman Capote’s description of the writer Jacqueline Susann).   It’s as if she were screaming “WADDAYA MEAN I LACK SOCIAL GRACES YA FRIKKIN’ LOSER!?”  while throwing her industrial-strength vibrator and knocking over a vase full of flowers.  Lauren English is ferocious in this role, which also requires some magnetic quiet moments.

The second act balances the first.  There is a twisted symmetry unfolding in the plot involving shifting alliances amongst the two couples.  A little information can be dangerous.  Carly, the security guard, comes across as more human when she is pregnant, and not only because there is another human onboard.  Her husband Kent, Greg’s buddy at work and on the company baseball team, is a cocky two-dimensional two-timer. He and Greg end up slugging it out on the outfield. He loses the fight and has an emotional breakdown which gets applause, although it seemed a bit overdone to me. Nevertheless, Patrick Russell nails the part.

Overall, this is a fine production.  I enjoyed the snazzy revolving set (designed by Bill English) where the entire background turns and sets up the next scene.  The theater itself goes back to 1923 when it was some kind of a ballroom. Later it was Theater on the Square with 700 seats.  SF Playhouse took over a few months ago and redesigned it into a beautiful house with a more manageable 200 seats.

For further information, click here.

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“Reasons to be Pretty” by Neil LaBute, produced by San Francisco Playhouse. Director: Susi Damilano. Set Design: Bill English. Composer/Sound Design: Billy Cox. Costume Design: Tatjana Genser. Lighting Design: Michael Oesch. Fight Director: Dave Maier.

Steph: Lauren English. Greg: Craig Marker. Carly: Jennifer Stuckert. Kent: Patrick Russell.

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