Tuesday, April 2, 2013

"Reasons to Be Pretty" ☼ ☼ ☼

Lauren English (Steph) has The Stare. Greg (Craig Marker) can't stand up to it. Few can.

At the same time, one of Kurt Vonnegut's rules for writing good short stories is to always give your reader at least one character to root for. Perhaps this is the heart of our problem with Neil LaBute's "Reasons to Be Pretty." The Stare notwithstanding, LaBute has not given us anyone we feel like cheering.

The four person ensemble works hard. Steph and Kent (Patrick Russell) get to throw spectacular temper tantrums. In fact, Steph does it twice.

But we are asked to make sense out of her nuclear meltdown anger at her boy friend Greg for saying something that appears to have been, at worst, a silly comment by a silly boy. We are asked to have sympathy for Steph's friend Carly, the security guard (Jennifer Stuckert), who is a uniformed and uninformed shrew. Most of all, we have to keep putting off our strong desire to grasp Greg by his shoulders and shake him until he lets the air out of Kent's tires and change cities. 

In the terrific "Fat Pig," another work in LaBute's trilogy that deals with human foibles about personal beauty, we saw something vicious and uncomfortable. The author was angry. Here, though we like the acting and director Susi Damilano paces the show well, LaBute feels distant. Instead of venting he is lampooning.

FULL DISCLOSURE: A man is writing this column. He may be clueless. His wife thinks so. She says she knows why Steph reacts as strongly as she does. This puts her husband in a difficult position. He says he would never say something as stupid as what Greg said about Steph. He gets The Stare.

RATINGS: ☼  ☼  ☼

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Reasons to Be Pretty" Three Stars. It's all in the writing -- we want to know sooner why Steph goes so over the top, which is crucial to liking or being confused by the show. We have no idea until the end, and the final scene lasts a long time.

Bill English's set is spectacular -- you walk into the theater and run right into the wall of a giant white lunchroom. The new roundabout (a gift, by the way, from Berkeley Rep and "Chinglish") makes the set and some sharply executed scene changes possible. The production is a treat to watch.

"Reasons to Be Pretty"
San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street (second floor of Kensington Park Hotel)
San Francisco
Through 5/11/13

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