Reasons To Be Pretty
By Neil LaBute, Directed by Peter Shipley
At the Maryland Institute College of Art BBOX April 12 and 14
Neil LaBute is known for his true-to-life, often dark stories, and MICA’s production of his play reasons to be pretty is a perfect example of his work. Four working-class friends deal with the strain of having grown-up relationships, struggling to come to terms with moving away from adolescence. When Greg (Kevin Jennings), a passive slacker, accidentally insults his girlfriend Steph (Melanie Ruston) behind her back, their relationship shatters, leading to many a curse word and blowout. Greg scrambles to make amends, but every attempt just does more damage. On the flip side, his best friend Kent (Will Grenier) knows just how to speak to his wife Carly (Allie Stephens). He sweet talks and charms, then openly lusts after another woman as soon as she leaves the room. Though all appears to be well on the surface, their relationship veers toward disaster.
The culmination of MICA’s The Play’s the Thing class, reasons to be pretty (plus Fat Pig, another LaBute piece now playing in repertory) shows off the various skills of people from different sectors of the art school. Some students tackled costume design, others hair and makeup, and the team of four cast members step out of the studio and into their roles with success. With a mixture of both dramatic and comedic scenes, the script demands much of its actors, and all of them skillfully bring their characters to the stage.
Staged in the school’s BBOX theater, the production transforms the void into many locations with simple yet well-crafted sets. The shadow of a windowpane falls across Greg and Steph’s bedroom, lending depth and a sense of realism to the space. In the factory where three of the four characters work, there are all the little touches one would expect, such as appliances and a large set of swinging doors, but the set is also spare, not bogged down by details.
LaBute’s script, for the most part, entertains and tells a compelling story. The ways the characters relate to one another comes off as genuine, their dialogue realistic yet lively. As reasons to be pretty reaches its conclusion, however, the action drags. Greg and Steph’s relationship never had a chance, and the audience knows it by their second battle. Yet the couple re-enacts the same fight repeatedly. Despite such flaws, the production comes together nicely, honestly conveying the perils of heartbreak and the pain of growing up.