Sunday, May 25, 2008

Trapped In The 11th Grade

"reasons to be pretty" presented by MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, May 23, 2008

In his preface for this play, Mr. LaBute discloses that this is the first play he's written that the protagonist is " of the few adults I've ever tackled."

Well, according to Mr. LaBute, an adult is:
  • Someone who still loves his girlfriend after she reads two pages of insults out loud to the food court at the mall
  • Someone who stays friends with the jock bully who lies and cheats on his wife
  • Someone who reads 19th Century American literature because he likes it
  • Someone who lies to the jock bully's wife when she asks about his affair
  • Someone who only summons the courage to beat up the jock bully after he insults the ex-girlfriend
  • Someone who doesn't take back said girlfriend when he has the chance
Mr. LaBute presents some of his stock characters, the conflicted male lead (our "adult") and the misogynist bully. He also mixes in four direct address monologues from each of the four characters, Greg (Thomas Sadoski), Steph (Alison Pill), Kent (Pablo Schreiber) and Carly (Piper Perabo). The monologues felt like Mr. LaBute hadn't been able to figure out a more interesting way to provide the exposition of each. In the end, it feels like a repeat of high school. "Greg doesn't think I'm pretty so I'm breaking up with him." And hence, the melodrama begins.

As Greg, Mr. Sadoski apologizes his way through this "adult" role, giving it his best, but never able to raise the level above the script. Inexplicably, this Greg who reads Poe and Hawthorne on his midnight lunch breaks working in a grocery distributor warehouse with Mr. Schreiber's Kent, never went to college. This Kent is a classic LaBute bully, a muscle-headed man-child who still acts like he's the high school football captain dating the head cheerleader. Mr. Schreiber imbues his Kent with every taunt, insult and threat a bully reserves only for his best friend.

As Carly, Kent's wife, Ms. Perabo bemoans the downside of being pretty - warding off unwanted suitors, feeling stalked at every turn. She's not the sharpest knife in the drawer. In one exchange with Greg, she asks about the book he's reading. "It's Poe. It's pretty dark." he says.
She replies, "I know. It's night out." "I meant the book." he explains.

Ms. Pill plays yet another angry young woman. The play opens with an argument between her Steph and Greg following a high school-styled "he-said, she-said" exchange relayed to her by Carly. The language approaches Mametian proportions, the result of which is uncomfortable hysteria rather than exposition or character development. The talented Ms. Pill does her best with the material, but much like Mr. Sadoski, there's only so much she can do.

Director Terry Kinney also works hard with a talented cast, keeping things apace. The scene flow feels clumsy, however, bouncing irregularly through time and tripped up by the various monologues.

David Gallo's warehouse set overpowers the proceedings, distracting from the plot, though David Weiner's lighting does what it can to minimize this.

Mr. LaBute has been relatively prolific over the last several years, producing at least one new play each year. I can't wonder if a bit of focus on quality over quantity might have it merits.

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