'reasons to be pretty'

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Playwright/provocateur Neil LaBute has explored our obsession with physical appearance and the way it wreaks havoc on relationships in such works as "Fat Pig" and "The Shape of Things." But "reasons to be pretty," the third entry in this unofficial trilogy, cuts even deeper than its predecessors. Marking the playwright's belated Broadway debut, this lacerating and funny work should appeal to younger theatergoers.

The plot is set in motion by a comment by blue-collar worker Greg (Thomas Sadoski) to his co-worker Kent (Steven Pasquale) about how his girlfriend, Steph (Marin Ireland), has a "regular" face. Steph soon becomes aware of the slight, resulting in a profane tirade and an immediate breakup.

Meanwhile, it becomes apparent that Kent and his pregnant security guard wife Carly (Piper Perabo), both gorgeous specimens, have their own relationship issues, with the loutish Kent cheating on her with a new employee at the warehouse in which they work.

LaBute's gift for comically nasty dialogue — especially relating to the battle between the sexes — is very much on display here, never more so than in the hilariously painful scene in which the wounded Steph turns the tables on her ex by launching into a brutally detailed description of his many physical flaws during a meeting at a shopping-mall food court.

But the playwright also displays an unusually thoughtful side while providing more complex characterizations than usual for him. Although each of the four characters is given surprising aspects, it's the perpetually befuddled Greg, who alternates between typically jerkish male behavior and genuine vulnerability and sensitivity, who most fascinates. Credit must especially go to Sadoski, who invests his performance with compelling soulfulness.

Director Terry Kinney, repeating his chores from the play's off-Broadway production, has again elicited superb performances from his ensemble. And the playwright has done some welcome tightening of the running time, with the biggest improvement being the deletion of extraneous monologues in which the characters unnecessarily explained their motivations. (partialdiff)
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