In a society as beauty-obsessed as ours, the fairly simple story that playwright Neil LaBute tells in “Reasons to Be Pretty” rings true in ways that can be discomfiting.
The comic drama, which premiered on Broadway in 2009, is directed here by Susi Damilano in a stellar SF Playhouse production. Both funny and sad, it reveals, in stark relief, the often unattractive vulnerabilities of its all-too-human characters.
LaBute calls “Reasons to Be Pretty” a coming-of-age story, but it is equally the story of the fragility of relationships, the insecurities that turn us into our own worst enemies, and our endless, soul-destroying search for approval.
Hair stylist Steph (a vibrant, emotionally connected Lauren English) is raging at her live-in boyfriend, Greg. That’s because of a recent phone call from her friend Carly (an intriguingly multifaceted Jennifer Stuckert), who overheard Greg tell her husband, Kent, that Steph’s face was “regular” in comparison to a sexy new employee at the packing plant where the two men, and Carly, work.
Steph’s insane fury at Greg’s betrayal leads her to end their
Greg, for his part, is exhausted — he works the graveyard shift — and confused. Whatever he says to Steph just makes things worse. Craig Marker portrays the hapless nice-guy protagonist with such low-key appeal that we’re instantly on his side.
Over the course of a number of fraught scenes in various locales (excellent revolving set by Bill English), we begin to see the larger implications of Steph’s meltdown (and even, by the last scene, the deeper feelings that motivated it).
It’s not just Steph, it turns out, who’s needy and desperate.
Tattletale Carly has marital problems. And smug Kent, a manipulative, sexist rage-aholic played with electrifying intensity by Patrick Russell, is obsessed with how others perceive him.
Meanwhile, Greg can’t seem to make any positive choices in his life. As he is pushed to the breaking point, we end up sympathizing not just with him, spineless as he initially seems to be, but also with the two women, both so much at the mercy of their emotionally
As Greg warns Steph, when he finds out she’s now engaged to another man: “This guy will hurt you. ... He’s a guy, so it’s a done deal.” It’s hard not to believe he’s telling the truth.