Neil LaBute’s “Reasons to be Pretty” is an examination of the lives of two couples struggling with their identities and the expectations of beauty they believe society holds for them. Deborah Keller, the director of the Peppermint Creek Theatre Co. production, said the work of LaBute is easy to read but challenging to perform.
“It’s immensely deceptive reading LaBute versus performing LaBute,” she said. “It reads very easy, it just reads, like, ‘Of course that would happen.’ It makes a lot of sense.
“(LaBute is) trying to be as truthful as possible with where these characters came from: socioeconomic status, class, history, where they are, where they want to head. If what we do in theater is try to bring the human condition to the stage, then I would say it’s fun to do a playwright that gives you so much raw material to work with.”
The play opens with an argument between factory worker Greg and his girlfriend Steph, who caught wind of Greg talking about her less than perfect looks. The rest of the play revolves around the fight, where it came from and where it goes.
Greg and Steph are friends with fellow factory workers Kent and Carly, who are married. Mary Wardell, who plays Carly, said Carly is the “pretty one,” but struggles with the fact that it hasn’t gotten her everything she wants in life.
“The play deals a lot with beauty,” Wardell said. “Carly is supposed to be the beautiful one, and she has struggles with her identity and the fact that she’s not all that smart but she gets by on her looks. It hasn’t benefitted her in her relationship or personal aspirations.”
Carly’s husband, Kent, loves “women, winning, baseball and being right,” according to Jesse Deardorff-Green, who plays him. Deardorff-Green described the character as being “uncomfortable” to play at times, but he added that many of the scenes are very familiar.
The play deals with themes of finding your identity, building a life for yourself and discovering the American dream, along with dealing with others’ expectations, or perceived expectations.
“This is really close to home for a lot of us,” said J.C. Kibbey, who plays Greg. “It’s not a world we have to create in our heads: This is a world that we live in and that we see that we’re trying to bring truthfully on the stage.
“(Greg) struggles with what he’s supposed to be and what his situation says he should be and what he really wants to be. We all struggle with a lot of the same things he struggles with. I think we all have some of the same fears he does, and even if we get past them, they’re always with us. It’s interesting to dip into those and get in touch with those and because it’s so relatable. It can be really intense as a journey for me.”
The journey is intense for the characters as well. Keller said she loves the “beauty of swearing,” and the way the harsh words convey emotions when the characters can think of no other way to express themselves.
Kibbey said he hopes the audience will be able to relate to the characters and their struggles in the same way the actors did.
“Do we think something will make us happy or are we told it’s going to make us happy, or do other people expect it to make us happy?” Kibbey asked.
“There’s a lot about what we think other people want from us as opposed to what they actually want from us. Are these standards what we want, or are they what we do because that’s what we’ve been told? Even when we do get things like being pretty or rich, it’s not always what we want.”