Those who regularly attend productions in the Cook Theatre have seen a couple of strong performances in the past of playwright Neil LaBute’s works, including Fat Pig (in a Banyan Theater offering) and The Shape of Things, presented by the FSU/Asolo Conservatory there. Now the Conservatory tackles yet another LaBute work, also concerned with our obsession with the way people look.
Reasons to be pretty opens with a torrent of anger and obscenity, pouring forth from Steph (Gretchen Porro, in a knockout performance), who’s furious (to put it mildly) over something her boyfriend, Greg (Tony Stopperan), said about her face (as reported back to her by her best friend and Greg’s co-worker, Carly). He’s defensive, evasive and actually a bit scared of the intensity of her response to something he considers a trifle. But it’s no trifle to Steph; it’s something she can’t let go of for weeks and even months, as they continue to have confrontational scenes (including one in a mall as they accurately portray that hate-filled couple everyone tries to avoid), even after they break up.
Tony Stopperan and Gretchen Porro in reasons to be pretty.
Complicating matters is Steph’s relationship with Carly (Ashley Scallon), even though we never see them in a scene together. Instead, we get Carly’s perspective in scenes at work; she’s a security guard at the plant where Greg and his friend, Kent (Jake Staley), who’s also Carly’s husband, work in a mind-numbing atmosphere of packing boxes and quick lunches in the break room. And Kent’s relationship with Greg is stressed, in turn, as Greg comes to realize he can’t live with telling lies for his duplicitous friend.
Greg, in fact, is, as the program notes indicate, a LaBute character who is actually trying to grow up and do the right thing—which young men in his plays usually don’t. His problem is that he’s trying to make his way through the minefield of male-female relationships, in the dark, without a flashlight. So there are plenty of stumbles, but in Stopperan’s performance we gradually come to feel sympathy for him—in about the same amount we feel antipathy for Kent during a climactic Act II fight scene between the two.
Barbara Redmond’s direction injects a lot of energy into the production, which is also propelled by contemporary pop songs with relevant lyrics (like Ingrid Michaelson’s The Way I Am) during scene changes. As you’d expect if you know anything about LaBute, reasons to be pretty is far from being pleasant to watch at times, and your tolerance for strong language has to be high on the meter. But it’s definitely worth seeing.
Reasons to be pretty continues through Jan. 23 at the Cook; call 351-8000 or go to asolorep.org.