Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Aficionado Goes to Town, Part 2

Reasons to be Pretty - I have a soft spot in my heart for the Lyceum Theatre. The shows that I have seen there have been failures, including Souvenir, The Lieutenant of Inishmore and [title of show] - all of which I enjoyed immensely. So whenever there is anything playing at the house (which has a notorious reputation for housing flops), I tend to anticipate seeing something of merit. Once again, there is something incredibly special going on at the Lyceum: playwright Neil LaBute is making his Main Stem bow with the transfer of Reasons.

Before the play starts, our hero (Tom Sadoski in a stellar turn as a well-read, non-confrontational slacker) has compared his girlfriend's face unfavorably with that of a younger new coworker. The idea that he prefers his girlfriend because she "has a regular face" pushes his character into a seemingly endless maelstrom, causing the character to re-examine himself and the direction of his entire life. The curtain rises on the middle of the break-up of these characters, with Broadway newcomer Marin Ireland making one of the most auspicious Broadway debuts this season as the girl who is permanently scarred by this one off-hand remark. Ireland is unafraid to expose the rage and vulnerabilities of her character, with one showstopping monologue in which she announces her ex's faults to a crowded mall food court. (During this scene one night, an audience member clearly got carried away and started to yell back at her. The night I saw it, a gentleman in the orchestra section gasped a clearly audible "Oh, fuck!")

Their friends, a married couple and coworkers, provide stark contrasts. Steven Pasquale is spot on as the boorish best friend and Piper Perabo quite impressive as his pregnant wife, a security guard at the factory where the men work (also the best friend of Ireland, and the person who tells her what happened). By the end of the play, Sadoski's character has done the impossible: he's grown up, taking great strides in his establishing his moral fiber and standing up to someone who is nothing more than an adult bully. The two hours interceding are engaging, surprising and captivating. I have to confess, I have never experienced any other LaBute plays, but many people with whom I have talked have expressed reticence to seeing this particular play because of the way he treats women in his work. The play at hand offers an eviscerating critique on our contemporary society and its obsession with the superficial, the final entry in LaBute's trilogy of plays that involve our obsession with appearances (the other two being The Shape of Things and Fat Pig).

The Tony race is pretty much between the hit God of Carnage and the struggling underdog Reasons to be Pretty. However it plays out on Tony night, I can't help but stress that both plays should be seen. I may be the only one to think this, but I find that they make great companion pieces, with GoC an unrelated sequel of sorts to r2bp. Both plays are four-handers involving two couples who find themselves at odds with one other, ultimately finding themselves isolated and fending for themselves after some terrifying displays of honest human behavior and emotion. r2bp is a play that captures what it's like to find oneself a few years out of college, with little aim or direction and wasting life trapped in static relationships and dead-end jobs. GoC looks upon the archetypes about 10 or 15 years later, with characters who are wiser, more confident and settled into careers, marriage and family obligations, with very little changed as it is still every man and woman for his or her self. I had seen GoC first and while watching the themes being bandied about in r2bp (including some genuine primal rage from Pasquale's character in the second act), I kept being drawn back to my evening at the former play. Plus, in about ten or fifteen years down the line I could easily see this cast reuniting for some Carnage. Just my $.02.

As for the Tony awards, one will emerge victorious but both plays are epic wins this season.

1 comment:

Esther said...

Thank-you so much for encouraging me to see reasons to be pretty. I'm so sad that it's closing. The cast is great and Neil LaBute has written some very true-to-life, witty dialogue.

It's really a hilarious play and I loved Thomas Sadoski - so adorable and appealing. I was really rooting for him. It was great to watch his character evolve. Plus, Steven Pasquale - I'm sure he's a doll but he's scary good playing a reprehensible jerk!

You're right about the God of Carnage parallel. Although there is a big class difference and I've been wondering how that would play out, if the four characters in r2bp had been confronted with the same issue as the parents in GOC.