Playing out the drama of an unwitting, small comment that opens up major implications, reasons to be pretty takes a look at the kinds of relationships that you are less likely to see on stage and more likely to have lived. The world of this play is a common one; its characters are everyday people and its effect is a resonate one that stands a good chance of following you out of the theater.
This cast of four is a very competent one, embracing the material to its fullest and finding nuance in its simplicity. Steven Pasquale stands out as the self-absorbed, alpha-male Kent, pushing the bounds of unforgivable infidelity while knowing how to maneuver the surface niceties that keep the truly pressing issues at bay. In contrast, Thomas Sadoski's Greg maintains a respectable morality in his relationships yet makes the mistake of referring to his girlfriend's face as "normal." These two work together to create the dichotomy on which the play's structure is founded. Marin Ireland plays an emotionally caustic Steph, walking the fine line of keeping her character likable while staying true to her hysterical nature. Ireland has some trouble projecting her voice and often sounds strained (she spends close to half her time on stage in screaming confrontation) but is otherwise very capable. Piper Perabo's Carly is a believable expectant mother of moderate mental abilities and greater physical beauty, affording her a surface of security in her relationship with Kent that is ultimately not enough.
Neil LaBute writes dialogue that is recognizable and realistic. The insights he gives his characters are believable and in keeping with who they are. There is no grandness to this plot; instead it remains true to the sterile world of people trapped in dead-end jobs and dying relationships. Greg is somewhat set apart by a series of literary works he reads throughout the play, suggesting that -- unlike his peers -- he is capable of something greater. It is this trait, coupled with a finale gesture suggesting he will leave his job to follow more scholarly pursuits, which provides a possible hope for the play's end. However encouraging this is, Greg's reading list seems tacked on -- this supposed acquired knowledge fails to sprout in his dialogue and actions. The way he is written, Greg is most clearly a good guy of waning motivation, with a tendency to be the reluctant Charlie Brown of his social circle.
The writing's most redeeming quality is its focus on these mundane characters and remaining honest to the outwardly uneventful quality of their lives. Acknowledging the emotional ripples that hit them like tidal waves when it comes to their personal lives is enough, and pretending that there has to be more to them almost denies them the humanity they are filled with.
David Gallo's scenic design is functional and fitting, perfectly complementing the themes of the play. A small break room of no particular distinction is surrounded on the outside by a vast and intimidating warehouse of stored products, representing the pent-up feelings and fears of the characters. The overwhelming quantity of these stacked surpluses looms from the wings of the stage, creating the pressure for the characters to squirm under. The music filling the scene changes is also aptly selected, particularly in the choice of Radiohead at the curtain call. There is an overall spirit of singing the songs of the unsung in this production that gives it its defining quality.
In a season shrouded with thankless revivals, I must offer my appreciation to this show's producers for taking a chance on a new work by a playwright making his Broadway debut. Without somebody taking chances on original pieces like this, we could be facing a future of a theater that runs out of things to revive. - C. Jefferson Thom
Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.