“Reasons To Be Pretty” Isn’t Pretty

Phil Brock For Council 2014

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Michael Feinstein for Santa Monica City Council 2014Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors BureauWhen one lives in a city as breathtakingly beautiful and unique as Santa Monica, inevitably that city will be shared with visitors.

By Zina Markevicius Kinrade

August 26, 2014 -- A rainbow of well-dressed ladies and gentlemen streamed into the theater. Bright aqua jackets, flowing fuschia skirts, amber brooches, tangerine lipstick, neatly-trimmed moustaches were a show unto themselves.

Buzzing and smiling in the summer sunshine, they were ready for a treat-- an afternoon performance at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood. Then the ugliness began.

Neil LaBute’s “Reasons To Be Pretty” uses stunted dialogue to introduce shallow, tired material. While aiming to illustrate the struggles of two young, working class couples, the play instead presents weak caricatures of average people.

They are barely one-dimensional, provoking no sympathy and sparking no interest of any sort. Even the meathead adulterer is too cartoonish to be despised or looked down upon.

Indeed, it is hard to believe that this play was nominated for a Tony award for best play in 2009, that it merited a well-received sequel, and that talented, thoughtful actresses Amber Tamblyn and Alicia Witt would bother to join the Geffen production cast.

Tamblyn plays Steph, a hair dresser who breaks up with her live-in boyfriend Greg, played by Shawn Hatosy. Greg was overheard telling his buddy that Steph’s face is “regular” while his new co-worker at the warehouse is “pretty.”

While Greg finds his comment innocuous, Steph is hurt. She wants to be considered “pretty.” At no point does the material get deeper or more interesting than this.

To get this far in the story, LaBute beats his audience over the head with choppy, silly dialogue. In the first scene, Steph and Greg argue for more than ten solid minutes, shouting and cursing like a pair of sqawking parrots.

Tamblyn’s Steph paces and stomps around the set, clenching and unclenching her fists, using her performance to try to impart some subtlety or changing emotion where there is none. The parade of profanities does nothing to enhance the scene.

Later, when Steph criticizes each part of Greg’s body to strangers at a mall food court, Tamblyn again attempts to add some subtlety by sheepishly taking her seat and darting her eyes back and forth, as if shocked and embarrassed by her public display of vengefulness.

Yet there is no dialogue or storyline to back this up. Is she trying to build up her own budding strength by tearing him down? Is she trying to make up for the four years she spent with him, now seen as a waste? We don’t know, and LaBute probably doesn’t either.

The conversations between the male characters are also less than inspiring. When meathead Kent, played by Nick Gehlfuss, asks Greg to keep quiet about his affair, he says that men are like buffalo, they need to stick together.

As Kent leaves the breakroom to return to work, Greg muses, “And look what happened to them.” What are we to learn from that?

The playwright inserts several monologues, perhaps compensating for the meaningless dialogue. However, even here, the insights are yawn-worthy. For example, Kent tells us that he is embarrassed that his wife (Witt) works at the same warehouse but that they need the money.

The peek into his struggles ends there, without further exploration of any sadness, regret, or hope. It seems that the author depends on words like “dude” and “twat” to speak for him.

In fact, a number of people left the show at the intermission. One group of four headed to the Hammer Museum down the road. “It was a waste of time,” said one patron. “I feel dumber having sat through this,” said another.

Here on the Westside of Los Angeles, we are surrounded by people who are not average. They are more wealthy or more beautiful than the typical American. This is particularly true of the average Geffen theatergoer.

This production is a missed chance to share a meaningful glimpse into the hopes and struggles of regular people. Next time, I will stay home and watch a rerun of MTV’s Teen Mom.

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