Arts » Arts Etc.

Low Blows and Blue-collar Breakups in 'Reasons to Be Pretty'

Don’t Judge a Shnook by His Lover

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Breaking up is, according to the old Neil Sedaka song, hard to do, but in the opening scene of Neil LaBute's 2008 play Reasons to Be Pretty, Steph breaks up with Greg in spectacular fashion. "You're like an Eddie Murphy concert," Greg complains, as Steph assails him with a fusillade of rude and crude expletives. Later in the play, as baiting escalates into blows, Greg breaks up with his best buddy Kent. "Why does guy shit always gotta end up like this?" asks Greg.

After four years together, Steph splits with Greg because Kent's wife Carly overheard him disparage Steph's good looks. In comparison to the hot young babe Kent was salivating over, Greg described Steph as "just regular," though he hastened to add that he loved her anyway. In the blue-collar macho world of LaBute's play, men will be boys, and appearances matter. To finalize her rejection of Greg, Steph provides a comic version of what poets call a blazon — an inventory of his body parts, but emphasizing their repulsiveness. Later, Kent provides a more traditional blazon, a catalog of the luscious features of the woman he is two-timing Carly with. When pulchritude counts for everything, there are reasons to be pretty.

Several scenes are set in the break room of the warehouse where Greg and Kent work. Carly is a security guard, and Steph a hairdresser. These are working-class folks whose cultural markers are 7-Eleven and TV Guide and who stumble over arcane words such as skillet and abstruse. Greg does not know what Skyping is. Ty Mylnar plays Greg as a likeable goofball, and it is his gradual transformation that is the engine of the play. A victim of appearances and of overvaluing appearances, Greg eventually resolves to take control of his life. Determined to go back to school, he declares: "I can't pack boxes all my life."

As Steph, the versatile Laura Michelle Hoadley undergoes a physical transformation, from the haggard harpy in the opening scene to a spurned vamp at the end. Like Ashley Greene's Carly and Nathan Thurman's Kent, she keeps her faith in the beauty myth. "Don't I want to be with somebody that finds me beautiful?" she asks. Under the direction of David Rinear, the four-member cast animates a narrow world of posturing and preening. The audience is placed in a posture of moral superiority toward those trapped in that world. We know better than to judge a shnook by his lover. But, then, we knew that even before we saw the play.


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