Neil LaBute's play Reasons To Be Pretty is one in a trilogy he wrote during a ten year period that explore the themes of beauty and our obsession with appearance.
But for some reason - which I am still trying to understand - I didn't see it as a 'beauty' play at all. Sure, the lead character of Greg (Paul Denny) is propelled onto his story arc or journey because of an initial comment he makes to his best mate Kent (Johnny McNamara) about the looks of a new female co-worker, but the play - to me - was actually about a man coming to terms with the realisation that he can't be everything to everyone and that perfection in all its forms (not just physicality) is impossible.
Contributing to my theory on the theme of the play was probably the fact that Paul Denny was able to engage me on a completely different level to the other three actors. Denny was mesmerising as Greg and I felt like I was watching a fully formed human being with light and shade and the intricacies of a personality that everyone possesses.
In contrast, the characters played by the other 3 actors struggled to engage me. McNamara's Kent never evolved as the cliched chick-obsessed-stupid-white-male (although his final seen with Denny was very gripping) while Kent's partner Carly (Eleanor Howlett) didn't have any realism to her - she seemed far too intelligent to stay with a doofus brain like Kent, and so I couldn't believe the relationship.
I thought Greg's wife Steph (played by Paul Denny's real wife Rebecca Denny) had the snappiest and most erratic dialog of the play but it was often delivered with the same tone that it also didn't seem realistic. This character was clearly written to be emotional, erratic and intense, and so I wanted to see all the complexities those emotions would elicit, but sadly did not.
The set was very basic and wouldn't have taken much to jazz it up a little, especially for the scenes that did not occur in the workplace, and the overly loud, bombastic music during each set change was alienating and kept taking me out of the moment I've just (tried to) share with the actors; I really can't work out what purpose such loud pop music is supposed to convey other than the feeling you are sitting in a nightclub.
Having said all of those things, I do recognise this is independent theatre working on a limited budget, but my complaints would not be fixed by throwing more money at the show, but by improving the set, toning down that music and trying to get more realistic interpretations of stereotyped characters to make them more authentic and believable - all things for a director (Eddy Segal in this instance) to think about - if they want to.
The final complaint is a purely practical one - there is no mention anywhere of the duration of the show (for the record it's 1 hour and 40 minutes with no interval) on either the Theatre Works or production company's website which is just poor form. It's basic information all patrons need to be able to plan, especially if they have organised the babysitter or use public transport.
I still recommend this play because Paul Denny's performance is so strong that I found myself forgiving the other aspects I've discussed above - and we should all make an effort to get behind independent theatre to not only show our support and encourage more works to get out into the public domain but to make up our own minds.
Review appeared at: http://theatrevirgin.blogspot.com.au/2012/06/review-reason-to-be-pretty.html
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