Reasons to be Pretty
@ The Phoenix
Written by Neil Labute
Directed by Christine Willes
Reviewed by Leah Callen
Reasons to be Pretty presents a world where people change relationships as easily as they shed overalls. Here, men and women take swings at each other while searching for their ideal other. Reasons to be Pretty blames women for the superficial desire to look good and men for desiring good-looking women. These characters are caught in a vicious cycle.
The women and men are flip sides of one another, barely skirting the clichés of beauty versus brains. Reese Nielsen as insecure Steph is exactly what she accuses her boyfriend of being: an overbearing know-it-all (who may kill your fish if you push her). Yet, I felt great sorrow for her as she spends the rest of the play taking his casual insult to heart and reinventing herself. In her humble monologue, she tells us she doesn’t have much but she likes what she has and she’s got to protect it. I saw her as a diamond in the rough, her off-the-charts cursing a defense mechanism.
Alberta Holden as the bouncy Carly, the security guard who’s always on the beat, almost becomes the butt of well-read Greg’s jokes. But she confesses a dark vulnerability by flashlight while doing her rounds at the warehouse: beauty comes with perks and pain. Her face is a creep magnet. With team spirit, Alex Frankson plays childish, Just-do-it Kent who skips through life and compares his lover’s eyes to crayon colours. Robin Gadsby shines as Greg, so thoughtful in his reading list and thoughtless about his girlfriend’s feelings. His thematic T-shirts broadcast the mood of each scene brilliantly. I enjoyed the shocking fistfight between jock and bookworm. Like two oversized children, they duke it out on the playground, but the bully has it coming.
It’s ironic that a play about the superficiality of looks is so visually exciting. We, the audience, become a character in the actors’ mirrors, and we’re told to mind our own business (check out the Phoenix bathrooms at halftime, hint, hint). Moving sets, film projections, and songs like “Bad Romance” set the atmosphere beautifully. The mall scene is full of visual metaphors: the red roses match the bloodstains on Greg’s In Cold Blood T-shirt; the male and female bathroom signs point in opposite directions–all illustrate the relationship war.
The play sometimes stretches things too far. Steph’s unedited rage needs a rewrite. As a woman, I related to both female characters: I’ve had people put down my looks and also been stalked by strangers. Perhaps that’s the female condition in our society–hated and desired. Overall, the play made me happy I’m single.
Why are we so critical when looking in the mirror? As Greg would say, it’s all just packaging. One man’s Venus is another’s regular girl. But, I also believe love should cast a glow on your partner’s face. I agree with Steph: “love is blind, s***head.”
Leah Callen is a budding poet-playwright-screenwriter studying at the University of Victoria.