The Fighting Chance Productions presentation of Neil Labute’s reasons to be pretty has difficulty sustaining its initial boil.
The final piece of Labute’s trilogy on our modern obsession with physical appearance, reasons to be pretty is a darkly comedic riff (and a glimmer of hope) on that theme, as it tells its story of four young friends and their painful co-existence among their seemingly dead-end lives.
Labute is on the attack early with an invective laden opening that simultaneously repels and astounds. While the central theme may revolve around outward appearance, here Labute is just as adept at peeling back the ugliness that lies within. On the receiving end of this nasty exchange, Adam Beauchesne as the boyfriend Greg shows his strengths early, settling easily into Labute’s ability for realistic dialogue even when it is done at decibel levels that would normally have the police at the door in a heartbeat. Working hard alongside him is Kristy Fielding as the girlfriend Steph who is so incensed at learning that he thinks he has described her face as just “regular”, she rails on with abandon. This opening sets the stage for the 90 minutes of ugliness that follows the quartet of friends and how they deal with the hurt they inflict on each other.
But while Beauchesne is able to find both Labute’s natural style and the layers within his character, the rest of this young cast isn’t always up to that challenge. In the opening sequence Fielding works hard, but is more confident as bitchy instead of finding the underlying anger that makes Greg’s comment so hurtful. In what should also be a knock-out scene where she reads from a list of Greg’s failings, she misses a real opportunity to really inflict an anger-filled revenge by not playing to the food court patrons.
Similarly, while James Paladino as Greg’s best friend Kent manages to find the unfeeling oaf, he plays at the surface only. Fairing a bit better is Emma Johnson as Kent’s girlfriend Carly but that comes very late in the play as she manages to find some of her character’s vulnerability.
In his program notes director Ryan Mooney talks of his actors committing so totally to the material that his job was simply to give them their stage blocking. While I’m sure he is perhaps not quite as literal as it reads, a stronger hand in guiding them to some of their decisions may have helped sustain the boil that Labute sets at the opening. Unfortunately, despite Beauchesne’s very watchable and believable performance, it only ever manages to be tepid by the end.
Interestingly, as Fighting Chance presents this 2008 penned show, Labute has recently brought his sequel Reasons to be Happy to the New York stage. If you spend any time contemplating his previous works or even a moment Googling photographs of Mr Labute it isn’t hard to perhaps see the title soaked in delicious irony. Or maybe, finally at age 50, he has finally grown up?
By Neil Labute. Directed by Ryan Mooney. A Fighting Chance Productions presentation. On stage at the Havana Theatre through February 1, 2014. Visit http://fightingchanceproductions.ca for tickets and information.