‘Reasons to Be Pretty’ finds humor in cold hearts

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There are many words in the English language that can be used to describe SF Playhouse’s latest production, “Reasons to Be Pretty.” However, “pretty” may not be one of them. Edgy? Yes. Hilariously entertaining? Yes. Pretty? Not quite. Written by American playwright Neil LaBute, the play is a witty and contemporary theatrical work that exposes, satirizes and deconstructs the sad reality of society’s infatuation with physical beauty — which, frankly, is hideous.

Neil LaBute has always had an eye for the ugly, past the superficial sense of the word. “Reasons to be Pretty” is the third and final installment of a trilogy written by LaBute, following “The Shape of Things” and “Fat Pig” — all of which explore America’s disgusting obsession with physical appearance.

The play opens with a huge domestic quarrel between a furious Supercuts hairdresser, Steph (Lauren English), and her bewildered boyfriend, Greg (Craig Marker). There are F-bombs dropped left and right (even words like “fuckheadedness” tossed in there somewhere), objects thrown and tears shed all because Steph’s friend overheard Greg describing Steph’s face as looking simply “regular” and told her about it. The scene closes with a breakup and a door slam, setting the stage for the rest of the production.

“Reasons to Be Pretty” isn’t exactly a love story, but it plays out similarly to the plot of a traditional romantic comedy. There are hysterical public breakdowns, attempts at rekindling romance and stereotypical characters (“Pretty in Pink,” anyone?). As the drama unravels, we are introduced to the two other characters in the story — Greg’s misogynistic best friend, Kent (Patrick Russell), and his “pretty”-faced wife, Carly (Jennifer Stuckert). Carly had, ironically, been the one to rat Greg out to Steph in the first place and ends up being cheated on while pregnant with Kent’s baby. The relationship between the couple exemplifies the truest depths of misogyny, superficiality and human indecency — comically combined in a nice little satirical package.

In one of the most noteworthy scenes, Greg attempts to win Steph back in the food court of a shopping mall but is instead shut down as Steph stands on a chair and publicly reads aloud a long list of his physical flaws. She touches on nearly every single part of his body except for his penis — out of politeness, of course.

As entertaining and funny as LaBute’s dialogue may be, it also digs deeply into society’s everyday problems and provides a clear view of how truly twisted humanity is capable of being. The conversations, the fights and the events that take place onstage all revolve around physical appearance to a certain degree. However, the conversations are so easily relatable to and reminiscent of our own reality that it’s almost a little frightening.

However, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. If anything, “Reasons to Be Pretty” is a coming-of-age story that follows Greg as he slowly comes to realize the vapidity of the world around him. And as frustrating as the characters and subplots may be at times, the work is ultimately moving.

LaBute’s script is undoubtedly vivid and smart on its own, but when combined with the talent and vivacity of the SF Playhouse cast under the keen direction of Susi Damilano, the production is an exceptional one. While there are some scenes that stall for longer than they should, SF Playhouse’s “Reasons to Be Pretty” can still be described as edgy, hilarious entertainment and downright ugly. Sometimes, not being pretty isn’t so bad after all.

Contact Michelle Lin at [email protected].