Friday, April 3, 2009

reasons to be pretty


By Neil LaBute. Directed by Terry Kinney. The Lyceum. (CLOSED)

Neil LaBute gets a warmish welcome for his arguably overdue Broadway debut, with the majority of critics hailing this fraught, funny four-hander as a step in a more mature direction for the prickly playwright. Most agree that Thomas Sadoski, as a sensitive slacker reconsidering his life, carries the play in a breakout performance, and that Terry Kinney's direction is spot-on, while most of the disagreements center on comparisons between last year's Off-Broadway premiere of the play and the Broadway transfer. Meanwhile, it should be noted that a number of critics just didn't feel it; Elisabeth Vincentelli's headline at NY Post is "Many 'reasons' to be wary."

The New York Times A+
(Ben Brantley) Making his Broadway debut with a revised (and much improved) version of a play seen off Broadway last year, Mr. LaBute has exchanged misanthropy for empathy, reaping unexpected dividends...Mr. LaBute is writing some of the freshest and most illuminating American dialogue to be heard anywhere these days...I suppose that in the wrong hands reasons to be pretty could sound like a Sunday school lesson, albeit one with a most unchurchly vocabulary. But Mr. Kinney’s production, which features sets by David Gallo that convey a blue-collar bleakness in deft shorthand, never smacks of the pulpit. Even more than when I saw it last June, reasons flows with the compelling naturalness of overheard conversation.

Associated Press A+
(Michael Kuchwara) The complicated, often explosive relationships between men and women are a source of eternal, often contrary fascination for Neil LaBute, and they have been superbly realized in reasons to be pretty, his most compassionate, appealing work to date...Unquestionably, it's a highlight of the season, and in Thomas Sadoski, director Terry Kinney has found the perfect embodiment of the play's benighted hero, Greg, a blue-collar factory worker with serious woman problems. In a breakout, Tony-caliber performance, Sadoski lives and breathes this decent, down-to-earth guy...One of the special joys of "reason to be pretty" is its ambiguity, an ambiguity reflected most compellingly in LaBute's dialogue for Greg and Steph. It's particularly effective in the play's later scenes as the two tentatively try to salvage what's left of their tattered relationship. And special mention should be made of Kinney's precise direction, carefully balancing the play's considerable volatility with its quiet, rueful passages.

Talkin' Broadway A+
(Matthew Murray) Brutally beautiful...Neil LaBute has pushed aside the usual destructively dangerous he-she relations he normally documents in favor of revealing his softer-than-predicted heart. And what a dazzling trade he's made...Fueled by a star-making performance from Thomas Sadoski, [it] may be LaBute's tamest, but it's also his best...For the first time, both genders are equally matched - taking sides is not possible...The transfers of power do not cease until the last minute of the last scene - at which point it’s still not clear who the winners or losers really are. This is mature writing not just for LaBute but for anyone...You may think you’re not seeing a LaBute play, but in fact you’re seeing the most LaButian yet.

Variety A
(David Rooney) The real subject of this taut, unexpectedly affecting drama is a man forced to take a long, hard look at himself after a flippant comment about his girlfriend's appearance kills their relationship. Nobody's going to call Neil LaBute a redemptive playwright, and even in this reflective mood, he's not exactly forgiving about men's failings and women's weaknesses. But there's compassion and even tenderness running through this play that make it one of his best...LaBute makes plenty of gnawing observations about the different codes of honor among men and women. But it's when Carly -- a warehouse security guard and the one who blabbed to Steph about the incriminating comment -- turns to Greg, expecting the same degree of loyalty, that his bruising education becomes complete. The play's series of bristling confrontations and agonizing negotiations has a cumulative power...LaBute's writing also makes gains by abandoning his penchant for shocking twists, and by shifting from a cold professional sphere into a blue-collar environment.

Time Out NY A
(Adam Feldman) Insightful and absorbing...The contemptuous sneer so common to the playwright’s work yields to a more bittersweet expression: the tight-lipped, grin-and-bear-it mask of wisdom acquired too late...LaBute takes the old saw that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and gives it new teeth.

The Daily News A
(Joe Dziemianowicz) The bard of bad male behavior, Neil LaBute, is back with some ugly truths in his latest play, reasons to be pretty...In his Broadway debut, he rises above the formulaic to craft a play that's perceptive and believable. What makes this work different is that the author's main character learns something about himself...Since last year's run, the play, now a lean two hours, has had an excellent makeover. Gone are clunky and heavy-handed monologues, which puts the focus firmly on Greg. But the fierce observations, emotional fireworks and occasional thunderbolts of comic insight remain, making "reasons to be pretty" an incisive look at the tricky terrain of young relationships. Much of the accolades go to director Terry Kinney, who has deftly guided his cast through a minefield of feelings.

USA Today A
(Elysa Gardner) It takes a tender man to make plays as tough as Neil LaBute's. No contemporary writer has more astutely captured the brutality in everyday conversation and behavior; that kind of insight requires sensitivity and soul-searching. The empathy and moral conviction behind LaBute's cutting prose has never been more obvious than it is in Reasons to Be Pretty...Thomas Sadoski's wry, earthy Greg is certainly never a bore; there isn't a false note in his heartbreaking performance. The other actors also thrive under Terry Kinney's vigorous but careful direction...The playwright asks us less to judge these people than to consider what moves them, and us, to cause and feel pain — and why some of us are better at rising above it. None of this would matter, of course, if LaBute were a less entertaining writer. Reasons to Be Pretty is hardly a feel-good play, but it will make you feel, and think, more deeply about seemingly mundane things.

The Hollywood Reporter A
(Frank Scheck) Marking the playwright's belated Broadway debut, this lacerating and extremely funny work should appeal to younger theatergoers especially...LaBute's gift for comically nasty dialogue -- especially relating to the battle between the sexes -- is very much on display here...But the playwright also displays an unusually thoughtful side in this work while providing more complex characterizations than usual for him. While each of the four characters is given surprising aspects, it's the perpetually befuddled Greg, who alternates between typically jerkish male behavior and genuine vulnerability and sensitivity, who most fascinates. Credit must especially go to Sadoski, who invests his performance with a compelling soulfulness. Director Terry Kinney, repeating his chores from the play's previous off-Broadway production, has again elicited superb performances from his ensemble.

(Roma Torre) Even though it's not the prettiest of shows, "Reasons To Be Pretty" is looking awfully good on Broadway..."Reasons To Be Pretty" is a small, richly-layered work with a sharp focus on our obsession with beauty and all the ways that communication and truth can fail us...Once again, Thomas Sadoski is the main attraction and he is awesome, playing the comedy and tragedy of this sad soul for all its worth. Director Terry Kinney expertly mines all the nuances and humor embedded in every line of this insightful and mature work. Bravo to Neil LaBute - like his protagonist, the playwright has finally come of age.

American Theatre Web A-
(Andy Propst) Invigorating...For this Broadway incarnation of reasons, LaBute has streamlined his script, and although the initial scene might be off-putting for those encountering the piece for the first time (Ireland's fierceness during the play's opening moments makes Steph seems psychotic), reasons ultimately delivers a resounding emotional blow.

Bloomberg News B+
(John Simon) Ferociously funny...The dialogue couldn’t be snappier and psychologically more astute, as partings prove as fraught as pairings, with the bitterest resentment harboring nostalgic yearnings for reconciliation. This requires utmost versatility and agility from the young actors, who must be able to go instantly from fireworks to waterworks, as well as display emotional ambivalences with a prestidigitator’s skill. Under Terry Kinney’s clockwork direction, the cast spiritedly obliges...The now-omitted soliloquies, which seem to me LaBute’s only real Broadway change, are not greatly missed. The sophomoric yet provocative ambiguities are plentifully present in story and dialogue.

Bergen Record B+
(Robert Feldberg) Has its bumpy moments, including a scene in which Greg and Kent have it out physically, in a clich├ęd reversion to the boys’ world of previous LaBute plays. Ultimately, though, the playwright delivers the goods, in a work that’s lively and compulsively watchable and that offers a fresh take on the eternal matter of achieving adulthood.

Curtain Up B+
(Elyse Sommer) All four of those actors are terrific. Mr. LaBute rather extensive reworking of the script makes Thomas Sadoski's Greg even more the central character of this coming of age story. And Sadoski, who was excellent off-Broadway is even better now...The play has not, as rumors doing rehearsals had it, been cut to an intermissionless 90 minutes. However, it IS more streamlined with the thoughts expressed via audience-addressing monologues by each character now incorporated into the characters conversations. This makes for a more natural, less stage-y play...As always, LaBute has been blessed to have his story staged by a director (Terry Kinney) sufficiently attuned to his rhythms to keep things tense and surprising.

Village Voice B
(Michael Feingold) Two things hamper LaBute, though, as his story snowballs from the misreporting of an overheard remark into private quarrels, public scenes, adulteries, separations, petty revenges, and fistfights. One is that his preoccupation with life's minutiae seems to keep him from conveying the bigger matters involved more lucidly...The story shrinks, instead of gaining resonance, under the weight of so many reasons to be petty. Line for line, though, LaBute's writing is always vivid; you can see why actors go for it, and Terry Kinney's direction has evoked sharp, convincing performances from all four of his cast members. Only the play's constant search for effectiveness at the expense of meaning vitiates its energy: You're always distracted by wondering what would happen if the character exiting didn't pause at that exact moment to say or hear exactly the wrong thing.

Backstage B
(David Sheward) Why has it taken so long for the prolific playwright to find his way to the Main Stem? Putting aside economic factors, the main reason is probably his savage tone. Generally his characters rip each other apart in the relationship wars, but here he at least attempts a reconciliation between the sexes...Off-Broadway, under Terry Kinney's hyperrealistic direction, Reasons to Be Pretty had the feel of a documentary...In the transition to Broadway, there have been cast changes and script tightening—with mixed results....Still, the play remains a compelling look at hardscrabble lives, shallow perceptions, and the struggle for maturity. There are plenty of reasons to see Reasons.

Theatermania B-
(David Finkle) A "here-we-go-again" enterprise...Fortunately, its flaws are partially redeemed by its four-person cast: Thomas Sadoski, who has deepened his already probing performance as factory worker Greg, the intensely gifted Marin Ireland, who deserves to be kissed by the producers on the hem of her late-in-play asymmetrical skirt for immersing herself in the role of Greg's aggrieved girlfriend Steph, and Piper Perabo (the show's other holdover) and Steven Pasquale as married co-workers Carly and Kent, who also warrant kudos for their committed performances under Terry Kinney's acidly biting direction...The superb Sadoski, who makes Greg's self-examination painfully palpable right up to his fade-out look, is one of the main reasons that reasons is still worth watching.

Entertainment Weekly B-
(Melissa Rose Bernardo) An unsympathetic heroine saps the energy right out of rtbp, which marks the prolific playwright's Broadway debut and his third meditation on body image/beauty obsession...Though it wants for well-rounded characters, rtbp is still laced with LaBute's trademark acidity, not to mention fine performances. Pasquale is particularly impressive, the perfect rough-around-the-edges leading man. Let's hope producers remember him when they revive Fat Pig, the best of LaBute's body-image trilogy.

Lighting & Sound America C+
(David Barbour) As long as the invective -- a LaBute specialty -- is flying, Reasons to Be Pretty has a certain comic sting...Unfortunately, LaBute is unwilling to let us leave the theatre until we've all learned a lesson. Reasons to Be Pretty is meant to be the story of Greg's moral education, but, given Steph's insane overreaction to his remark, the real moral of the story seems to be that Greg needs to meet a better class of woman...LaBute excoriates his male characters for being obsessed with looks, but he doesn't seem to notice that his women are pathologically fragile and dependent on flattery...By the way, LaBute seems determined to preempt the charge that he is patronizing his characters. Almost defensively, he adds a program note, in which he discusses his deep empathy for them and their dead-end jobs. Next time, he might notice that not all of them exist in an emotional kindergarten.

AM New York C+
(Matt Windman) If you’ve seen one Neil LaBute play, you’ve more or less seen them all. All of his relationship dramas explore the same stuff – good people doing bad things, deceit, uncontrolled anger, misogyny, and violence – as told through a nonstop barrage of curse words...On the whole, the drama still feels flat and lacking. However, it does shun the cumbersome plot twists and turns that LaBute usually depends so heavily on...It must be admitted that Steppenwolf Theatre co-founder Terry Kinney has mounted a generally convincing and well-acted production. And LaBute deserves some credit for trying to engage in a cultural dialogue about our obsession with physical beauty. C+
(Martin Denton) The soullessness of this serious comedy reflects the aloneness of this character...LaBute paints himself into a corner rather quickly, though; with only four characters in his play, and three of them utterly unlikable, the only thing that sustains us as we watch is Greg's possible triumph over his compadres. We root for him to escape, but he takes what seems to be a very long time to do so. The dialogue is sharply written, mostly nailing the casual Anytown, America sounds and rhythms of the blue-collar characters; the crowd-pleasing jokes feel inserted, though, and sitcom-like...Terry Kinney's staging is solidly naturalistic, except that he's apparently asked set designer David Gallo to provide a literalized representation of the Greg-is-trapped-in-Costco metaphor in the form of huge floor-to-ceiling shelves at the edges of the stage filled with boxes of products.

Newsday C
(Linda Winer) Almost shockingly slight and too eager for redemption to be provocative...The play is set somewhere grim in what the program calls "the outlying suburbs" and moves in short scenes from bedroom to factory lunchroom to food court. [Director Terry Kinney] wrings unbridled violent physicality from the hardworking cast. But for a guy who reads Poe and Hawthorne on his lunch break, Greg really should be deeper than this.

Wall Street Journal C-
(Terry Teachout) A kinder, gentler Neil LaBute, one who lets his hapless protagonist partway off the hook instead of letting him twist and turn all night long. That's what makes reasons to be pretty suitable for uptown consumption. It's Mr. LaBute's first semioptimistic play -- which turns out not to be a good thing...If you've never seen any of Mr. LaBute's plays, you might well find this one fresh, but this is the sixth one I've reviewed, and I'm sorry to say that his style has hardened into a set of tricks and mannerisms that he uses to say the same things over and over again.

New York Post D+
(Elisabeth Vincentelli) Underneath the profanity, hot-button issues and general hostility lurks a fairly conventional treatment of well-trodden themes. LaBute's plays would rock only the tipsiest boat -- which says more about American theater than it does about him...[A] climactic all-out fistfight is as expected and ultimately bittersweet as the hero's deflowering in a teen movie. Sadly, the scene doesn't quite pack the necessary punch (literal and otherwise), and neither does the play as a whole...In many ways, Greg is the physical materialization of LaBute's writing. Like Greg brawling with Kent in front of their softball teammates, LaBute is engaging in a public confrontation with his own macho past.

The New Yorker D
(Hilton Als) [LaBute is] more interested in the relationship between the two men than in those between the couples. (His first film, “In the Company of Men,” involved a similar dynamic.) Kent is the annoying alpha male to Greg’s more compliant sidekick—at first. And if there’s a touch of homoeroticism in Kent’s bullying big-brother approach to Greg’s more nuanced thinking, then Kent is the last to know it. He is a meathead who understands that his physical strength and his resistance to thought are terribly attractive to women—or, at any rate, to women who conflate masculinity with insensitivity, and enjoy being objectified. The women in Kent’s life get turned on by their own moral superiority as much as they do by his slablike fingers slapping their fannies. He’s a cuter Andrew Dice Clay, and, the night I attended the show, women laughed as uproariously at his sexism as they did at Steph’s cluelessness. It’s as if LaBute’s—by now canned and adolescent—“transgressive” point of view were what audiences needed in order to feel anarchic, to shed the boring safety of their lives.

New York F
(Stephanie Zacharek) Ostensibly mines some rich, complex subjects: the delicate nature of women's feelings about their own looks; men's capacity for deceit and selfish cruelty, or just plain cluelessness; and the inability of men and women to bridge the gap that eternally divides them. But for LaBute, subjects take precedence over people, and they circle this hungry lions in search of characters to eat. What's left, in the end, are a pile of bones and a few indigestible scraps of something that sounds an awful lot like a master's thesis. Its title might be "Male-Female Relationships: The Dark Side"...LaBute wants us to face, with bitter laughter, the uglier aspects of human nature. But he doesn't love his characters, beyond the fact that they serve his purpose. It's no wonder the performers here—directed by Terry Kinney—have trouble fleshing out those characters. They're not acting, they're delivering material; and they have no chance of outrunning the lion.

The New York Times A+ 14; Associated Press A+ 14; Talkin' Broadway A+ 14; Variety A 13; Time Out NY A 13; The Daily News A 13; USA Today A 13; The Hollywood Reporter A 13; NY1 A 13; American Theatre Web A- 12; Bloomberg News B+ 11; Bergen Record B+ 11; Curtain Up B+ 11; VV B 10; Backstage B 10; Theatermania B- 9; Entertainment Weekly B- 9; LS&A C+ 8; AM New York C+ 8; C+ 8; Newsday C 7; Wall Street Journal C- 6; New York Post D+ 5; New Yorker D 4; New York F 1; 249/25=9.96 (B)


Aaron Riccio said...

Wow. I'm a huge LaBute fan, but I panned the hell out of "Reasons to Be Pretty" when it was at MCC, mainly because of the contrived monologues. I am now psyched to go and see it--which I don't often say for Broadway--and I have to be honest, Marin Ireland is pretty much the only girl I could envision replacing Alison Pill (who will be on In Treatment!).

Anonymous said...

Don't know what school you went to but in my experience that many A's and A+'s adds up to a bit better than a B+. Sorry.

Sarah Dunivant said...

I found the monologues from the MCC version very affective. I do understand why they took them out, but personally I miss them. I was sad to hear that Alison Pill would not be in the Broadway show, however, Marin Ireland was fantastic (As was the rest of the cast)!

Anonymous said...

So first of all, the review is not a C. Its minimum a B. The guys loves the cast, the directing, etc.

You also haven't included NY1's review which is also an A+.

Seems to me like you have something personal with this show.