The concept of physical beauty is a complicated thing. That fact is evident and on full display in “Reasons to Be Pretty,” Neil LaBute’s brutally revealing play now at the Southampton Cultural Center. Presented by Center Stage under the direction of Joan Lyons, this enlightening, if at times disturbing, four-hander explores the emphasis on beauty in a consumerist society, where prescribed notions of physical attractiveness are valued above all else.
“Reasons to Be Pretty” opens with a bang in the form of a nasty and profanity-laden argument between Stephanie and her live-in boyfriend, Greg. Stephanie has just been told by her friend, Carly, that Greg thinks Stephanie’s face is just “regular,” as in “not pretty.” The comment came during an overheard conversation between Greg and Kent, Carly’s husband, as he made lewd comments about an attractive new coworker at the warehouse where he, Greg, and Carly all work.
While it’s one thing for an average looking woman to maintain her self-confidence when judged by strangers, it’s quite another when the man she loves can’t convince her that he thinks she’s beautiful. With the comment, the pact between Stephanie and Greg is broken and the damage is done. There’s no going back for Stephanie, who seriously doubts his sincerity. As LaBute makes clear, we may consider ourselves to be highly evolved creatures, but when it comes to communication between the sexes, we still have quite a bit of growing up to do.
Meanwhile, Kent, a major cad with a wandering eye and heat-seeking hands, and his very attractive wife, Carly, have their own issues to deal with in terms of insecurity and betrayal. Carly’s sharing of the overheard conversation with Stephanie creates an uncomfortable situation that puts Kent and Greg at odds with one another as well, and their friendship is likewise thrown into turmoil.
The most illuminating moments come in a series of four monologues, one by each character, in which they speak truth to the deepest insecurities and fears in their relationships. Even Carly, who seems to have it made, shares frustrations of being superficially judged.
Its powerful messaging and the tightness of the script means the dialogue flies by. Lyons does a good job with the direction, and in terms of the cast, Bethany Dellapolla shines brightly as Stephanie. Her pain is palpable and we can see that she will never be able to “unhear” what Greg has said about her.
As Greg, Jonathan Fogarty also has some fine moments, specifically in expressing confusion about why his comment, which he felt was innocuous, is so hurtful to Stephanie. But his manic delivery comes across as snarky and insincere at points where baffled introspection would serve him better by making him a more sympathetic character.
As Kent, John Lovett rises to the challenge admirably by giving it his best shot, but he seems somewhat uncomfortable delivering the character’s misogynistic speeches and adopting the playboy attitude. Carly is perhaps the hardest character to read, both in motive and emotion, and Bethany Trowbridge plays her with a calm and even-keeled hand.
On a production note, the warehouse where three of the four characters work serves as the primary set and, as designed by Lyons, is well conceived for the bulk of the action. But other scenes take place at bars, in restaurants, and homes where additional lighting cues could go a long way in defining those locations as separate from the warehouse. Similarly, the production would benefit from the addition of music cues, both during scene transitions and in the more public settings, providing further clues about the era and socioeconomic level of the characters.
All in all, “Reasons to be Pretty” is a worthy show that calls attention to rarely discussed internal dialogues and is well worth the wild ride. Be aware, however, that LaBute is known for pulling no punches and his language can be coarse, offensive, and extremely revealing. For that reason, the play is appropriate for older teenagers and adults.
Center Stage’s production of “Reasons to Be Pretty” by Neil LaBute runs Thursdays to Saturdays at 7 PM and Sundays at 2:30 PM at Southampton Cultural Center through January 27. Tickets and dinner theater packages may be purchased at scc-arts.org.