Reasons to be real
Reasons to Be Pretty
Sacramento, CA 95816
Man-bashing can be easy, especially if men are being clueless. Or perhaps that’s just Neil LaBute, author of Reasons to Be Pretty, now in production at Capital Stage. The phrase “men behaving badly” is an apt description of LaBute’s plays.
Reasons to Be Pretty centers around Greg (Cole Alexander Smith), a sort of Everyschmuck. He’s insensitive, but not mean; he just can’t figure out what women want. Nobody else can, either, dude—even women—and anyone who tells you otherwise (like your buddy Kent, played to asshole-ish perfection by Chad Deverman) is full of crap.
If you think the language of this review is crude, Reasons to Be Pretty is not the play for you. It opens with an F-bomb fest in the form of a domestic squabble between Greg and his live-in girlfriend, Steph (Stephanie Altholz), precipitated by the sort of loose lips from Greg that have torpedoed his relationship: He was overheard saying that Steph has a “regular” face. She’s not “pretty.” Never mind that he loves her and only wants to be with her; he just doesn’t get it.
It’s his painful bumbling that moves the play along and keeps the audience engaged while he tries to win Steph back, and then to get a grip on what he needs to change about himself. Along the way, Steph’s best friend, Carly (Allison F. Rich), who narked him off in the first place, turns out to be, well, not so bad after all, and his best friend, Kent, is far more Everydick than Everyman.
What’s both interesting and disturbing is the way that the characters feel so familiar: We went to high school with them, or maybe used to be them. This is an honest, realistic depiction of human nature. We all want someone who thinks we’re pretty. Really pretty; not just “regular.” Director Janis Stevens moves the play along at a crisp two hours, the scenes flow seamlessly from one to the next, and we get a glimpse at what love is like for young people trying to make a go of life.
Smith is a surprisingly likable schlub—cute, a little too smart to be happy with the status quo, insecure and genuinely aching to be a nice guy. When he says, “I’m not going to be that guy,” we know he’s really trying not to be that guy, which makes Deverman’s oily Kent such a foil. We all knew guys like Kent in high school; they always got the pretty girls, and they always broke the pretty girls’ hearts. Altholz gets a chance to shine as a small, sweet girl who finds her spine and relentlessly defends her right to be loved completely. Rich’s Carly seems at first to be one of those women who just has to stir up trouble, but over the course of the play, she shows a depth that makes us, like Greg, respect and like her.
There are a lot of reasons to see Reasons to Be Pretty. Just don’t expect the language to be pretty.