reasons to be pretty

Neil LaBute dissects male-female relationships as only he can—savagely, but not without humor and maybe even a sliver of hope—in reasons to be pretty, his 2008 button-pusher now being given a dynamically directed, sensationally acted intimate revival at Hollywood’s Lounge Theatre.

The last thing 20something factory worker Greg (Wolfgang Novogratz) expected when he casually referred to his girlfriend’s looks as “regular” was to provoke a shitstorm of invectives launched in his direction, but that’s precisely what Stephanie (Laura Coover) unleashes in what may well be the most profanity-fueled scrimmage-of-the-sexes in theatrical history, for despite Greg’s attempts to deny, deflect, or defang Steph’s invective and despite his best efforts to convince her that by calling her looks “regular” he was in fact complimenting her on one of her most attractive assets, Steph is having none of this, and by scene’s end, she has left him with a final “Fuck you!” (or words to that effect).

 What follows are a series of tête-à-têtes set either in the break room of the factory where Greg, Steph, Greg’s best buddy Kent (Mercer Boffey), and Kent’s security guard girlfriend Carly (Andrea Hunt) pull the nightly “third shift,” or at a mall food court or local Italian restaurant lobby or on the playing field where Kent vows to lead the factory softball team to its first trophy in over twenty years, and since this is Neil LaBute (Tony-nominated for reasons to be pretty) we’re talking about here, audiences can rest assured that dialog doesn’t get any more astute, razor-edged, or in the case of this play in particular, outrageously funny than the words shouted, sneered, spat out, snarled, or otherwise uttered by his four flawed yet achingly real characters.

 Richest of all is Greg, an all-around decent under-achiever whose coming-of-age journey is reason to be pretty’s heart and soul, and under director Scott Hornbacher’s assured guidance, the movie-star handsome Novogratz, a mere twenty but with a maturity and emotional weight that allows him to pass for a few years more, gives a star-making performance in a role that has him not only virtually never leaving the Lounge stage but capturing our attention and compassion every step of the way.

Coover’s equally terrific Steph may embody the very traits that can drive men mad, whether in the persistence of her opening salvo or in the downright cruel (and apparently endless) list of character faults she reads out loud not merely to Greg’s face but to a food court-full of assembled mall diners, but Coover (despite being rather too pretty to ever be called “regular” in real life) makes us see the insecurities that drive her to such apparent insanity.

Still, no matter how much of a (expletive deleted) Steph can be, her minuses pale in comparison to Kent all-around jerkhood, the magnetic Boffey giving him an unapologetic macho braggadocio outweighed only by the contempt he feels for women in general (and Carly in particular), a role Hunt brings to vital, multi-dimensional life, making us see how beauty can be nearly as much of a curse as its lack is purported to be.

 Scenic designer Adam Rowe’s ingeniously morphing set (filled with Trish Gallagher Glenn and Maria Nay’s multiple props) takes us from workplace break room to mall food court to restaurant lobby to baseball diamond in scene changes that might overstay their welcome without the crackerjack team of stagehands that make them happen almost lickety-split, transitions underscored by Mark Tschanz’s edgy, cinematic original music.

Tiffany White Stanton’s first-rate costumes range from factory wear to dress casual, David Svengalis lights all of the above with flair as his sound design sets both mood and place, and fight director David Rowden throws in one very believable fist-to-fist for good measure.

Casting is by Donna Morong, CSA. Svengalis is stage manager. Max Montel is associate producer.

reasons to be pretty’s raison-d’être may be to showcase four of Aquila Morong Studio’s finest acting students, but with up-and-comers as talented as Novogratz, Coover, Boffey, and Hunt bringing Neil LaBute’s words to fiery life, this is no mere “showcase production.” It is L.A. intimate theater at its electrifying best.

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Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Boulevard. Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
December 3, 2017


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