Men’s Darkest Impulses Presented Onstage in Southampton
It is fitting at a time when so many men have been called out for behaving badly that Center Stage of the Southampton Cultural Center will present Neil LaBute’s play “Reasons to Be Pretty” from tomorrow through Jan. 27.
“Reasons to Be Pretty,” which premiered Off Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theater in 2008, moved to Broadway a year later and was nominated for three Tony Awards and four Drama Desk Awards, including best play. It was the third in a trilogy of plays including “The Shape of Things” and “Fat Pig” that focused on the contemporary obsession with physical appearance.
The play revolves around four young working-class friends, Greg and his girlfriend, Steph, and Kent and Carly, who are married. The hard-hitting comedy is set in motion by Greg’s comment that Steph has a “regular” looking face compared to a pretty new employee where he works.
After learning of Greg’s comment, Steph leaves him, but not before she launches a “firestorm of abuse and invective, hot enough to scald the hide off a thick-skinned man,” according to the critic Ben Brantley in his New York Times review of the Off Broadway production.
As Greg’s life spirals out of control, Carly and Kent are drawn into the maelstrom. It turns out that Carly is three months pregnant, and her husband is having an affair with his new, attractive co-worker. Chastened by all that has happened and fed up with Kent’s adultery and obnoxiously sexist comments about Steph and other women, Greg comes to blows with his friend.
“I am a LaBute fan,” said Joan M. Lyons, the director of “Reasons to Be Pretty” and a member of the Center Stage Committee. “I like that his characters are very average Joes. And he doesn’t overwrite his characters, so there’s plenty of room for interpretation. He gives you room to work with his written word.” Two years ago, Ms. Lyons directed “The Money Shot,” another play by Mr. LaBute, at Center Stage.
A screenwriter and director as well as a playwright, Mr. LaBute is notorious for his portraits of misanthropic and misogynistic men. He is best known for “In the Company of Men,” about the cruel treatment of a deaf woman by two men. It was named best first film by the New York Film Critics Circle in 1997 and won the Grand Jury Prize at that year’s Sundance Film Festival.
In his review of “Reasons to Be Pretty,” Mr. Brantley acknowledged the “nastiness” of Mr. LaBute’s previous plays but stressed that, “Neil LaBute, the harsh and unforgiving chronicler of men’s darkest impulses, is making nice,” adding that the play was “shot through with compassion” for its characters.
Nonetheless, in all his work, “LaBute is very edgy,” said Ms. Lyons. “He doesn’t take any prisoners, he’s unkind to most of his characters, and there’s something about it that appeals to me.”
The Center Stage production stars Bethany Dellapolla and Bethany Trowbridge, both from East Hampton, Jonathan Fogarty of Greenport, and John Lovett of Riverhead. Performances will take place Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $25, $12 for students.