reasons to be pretty at SF PLAYHOUSE IS A STUNNER

reasons to be pretty. Written by Neil Labute. Directed by Susi Damilano. SF Playhouse, 450 Post Street (2nd Floor of Kensington Park Hotel) between Powell/Mason, SF 94102 in downtown San Francisco. 415.677.9596 or www.sfplayhouse.org.

March 26 to May 11, 2013

reasons to be pretty at SF PLAYHOUSE IS A STUNNER

The conceit of using lower case letters for the title of reasons to be pretty is not made clear by the author, press material or the storyline of the play that is the final cog of Neil Labute’s trilogy dealing with America, and the world’s obsession with physical appearance. The other two plays are The Shape of Things and Fat Pig, all in capital letters.  Regardless of the lower case title, the play mounted at SF Playhouse’s new theatre is a capital production that should not be missed.

Yes, the play has a misogynistic bent with the F word abounding but it is a slice of blue collar life and perfectly appropriate for the dialog. LaBute creates universality to his thesis by being non-specific about the time and place of the action except that three of the characters are in low end jobs working the night shifts without much chance for advancement. There is a touch of Tom from Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie in the protagonist Greg (Craig Marker) who spends is off duty time reading and is passive in his relationships with best friend and macho fellow worker Kent (Patrick Russell).

Greg has been living with Stephanie (Lauren English) for four years when he has made an off-hand remark to Kent that triggers a violent tirade from Stephanie.  During an innocuous man-to-man bull session Greg had remarked that, compared to the sexy new co-worker, Stephanie has a “regular face.”  Stephanie’s indignant outburst gives Lauren English a chance to emote and she nails the part in spades with Craig Marker a perfect foil for her histrionics.  It ends with Stephanie storming out and the relationship is over.

Bill English’s marvelous set is mounted on a revolving stage allowing the action to flow without interruptions. The excruciating first scene is tempered in the second when we meet dominant alpha male Kent and his very attractive wife Carly (Jennifer Stucker) who as a best friend to Stephanie has spilled beans about “the” remark.  Labute’s ability to define character through conversation is legion and he is at his best in this play as he telegraphs impending action layer on layer.  When Kent engages in a sexual liaison with the unseen Crystal (don’t you love the choice of name), the sexy new co-worker that has been compared to Stephanie he takes Greg into his confidence binding him to secrecy. That secrecy becomes a major source of conflict within Greg.

As well as being a denunciation of our obsession with personal appearance that the author has emphasized in his previous two plays, reasons to be pretty is also a coming-of-age story as Greg breaks the male bond with Kent with more than a suggestion that he will move on with his life dumping the stifling job as a warehouse worker. Whereas the breakup scene with Stephanie is a shocker the brutal confrontation of the two men who are still acting like boys is eye-popping.

Each actor invests their roles with verisimilitude that this reviewer can attest to having been brought up in a dying mill town in upstate New York. Occasionally the spectacular set interferes with the candor and dynamics of the story but one can never complain about the crackerjack production values of the SF Playhouse. Susi Damilano directs with complete understanding of human relationships doing honor to LaBute’s words and philosophy. Running time is about 2 hours including the intermission.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com

Full Cast: Patrick Russell (Kent), Jennifer Stuckert*(Carly), Craig Marker* (Greg), Lauren English* (Steph)