By Tara DeLorenzo
There’s an ugly side to pretty, according to Rider University School of Fine and Performing Arts’ rendition of Reasons to be Pretty, which took the Bart Luedeke Center Theater’s stage from April 9-13.
Directed by associate professor of theater Miriam Mills, Neil Labute’s contemporary play focuses on four characters, Greg (senior Greg Clark), Stephanie (senior Melissa Saint-Amand), Kent (senior Dan Argese) and Carly (sophomore Allie Patton), each dissatisfied with an aspect of his or her life and looking for something more. Reasons to be Pretty also exposes society’s unhealthy emphasis on the superficial through the characters’ ups and downs, showing that the things that matter most in life often just fall by the wayside.
Greg and Stephanie
The play immediately brings the audience into the action as it begins right in the middle of an argument between Greg and Stephanie. The reason for this fight: Carly overheard Greg saying Stephanie’s face isn’t pretty, it’s just “regular,” but that he wouldn’t trade it for anything. Even though Greg meant it as a compliment, Stephanie can’t handle being with someone who sees her as average.
This opening scene is the first of many fights between the two, but the last time they fight as a couple. Saint-Amand did an outstanding job portraying the fiery and sometimes temperamental Stephanie, and the chemistry between her and Clark was perfect. The two characters struggle throughout the play about what to do with their relationship. Can they ever make it as a couple? Can they be just friends? How do they let go? How does Greg react when it is revealed that Stephanie is engaged to someone else at the end of the play? Clark and Saint-Amand were able to encompass the ups-and-downs of a breakup in their acting. They captured the pure heartbreak and pain that comes with seeing an old love for the first time after a while, and the awkwardness that comes with running into that person when he or she is on a date.
Saint-Amand and Clark were able to take their characters to new heights.
Throughout the play, each of the four characters takes the stage alone for a monologue. Stephanie’s monologue centers on the idea that she may not be a beauty, but she is proud of who she is, and she deserves to be with someone who thinks she is beautiful. Saint-Amand’s ability to capture the vulnerability and heartache her character experiences was wonderful, leaving the audience in tears, but she inspired more than tears. In fact, she had the audience in fits of laughter, as she screamed at Greg during the initial argument, threatening to murder his goldfish if he walked out. While the yelling may have been performed a little too loudly, Saint-Amand, with her sassy attitude and openness, did a terrific job injecting comic relief into the more serious moments.
Clark’s performance of Greg stole the show with his dry, quirky humor. Clark made Greg relatable to everyone, allowing him to really take the spotlight. His character is one that goes from a man desperate to find a way to get Stephanie back, to one who is lost, to one who is willing to go the distance to be a good man — no matter the consequences.
Clark was able not only to bring the audience on the journey with him, but also to make them root for him. His monologue, the closing scene of the play, focuses on the idea that although society emphasizes looks over personality, it’s important not to be judgmental. Clark, like Saint-Amand, had the audience in tears. With his vulnerability and the honesty behind his words, Clark was able to give an incredible performance.
Kent and Carly
Kent and Carly, a married couple, present a different argument on the downfalls of “pretty.” Kent is insensitive
and superficial — to the point where even his wife, Carly, knows if she stops being physically attractive, he will leave her. Kent, as a character, seems to represent the play’s overarching theme. He only values vanity, beauty and winning. Argese was able to take this brute-like man and turn him into something comical. His surfer-boy attitude made Kent the stereotypical male, and his monologue followed suit as Kent attempts to justify his affair, saying, “It’s what guys do, it’s how it’s done.”
Carly ends up proving that she is more than the conventional “pretty girl” through her monologue, which reveals that pretty isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, to her, it is a burden. Until the monologue, Patton portrayed Carly as a typical “pretty girl.” Carly is not particularly the smartest, and it seems as though many things were handed to her in life. Patton did an incredible job of making Carly a complex character. Patton was able to evoke authenticity out of Carly and revealed the dark side of pretty.
Further capturing the lives of these four characters was the set, which was intricately done. Primarily, it took place in the break room of the warehouse where Kent and Greg work, complete with fluorescent lighting. The break room included a kitchenette, couch and table, and surrounding it was the warehouse itself with cardboard boxes stacked up high on orange shelves. The play shifted to places like a food court and a restaurant, where the setting became more minimalistic, and then to the bedroom where the initial fight took place. The bedroom was as elaborate as the break room, with a bed sitting on center stage alongside the couple’s laundry. On a bedside table was Greg’s treasured goldfish. All of this worked together to enhance the play by allowing the audience to truly get a grasp of the lifestyles and conditions behind the characters.
With its small cast and complex sets, the play is a strong piece that looks not only into exposing how society puts too much emphasis on beauty, but also at gender roles and how men and women tend to view one another. It depicts the importance of hearing one another and listening to what others have to say, showing that if everyone listened more, there would be fewer problems.
Reasons to Be Pretty contends that there is more to pretty than meets the eye. It is a story that shows there is beauty in everyone, but society has become too judgmental, making it hard for people to see it. Everyone just needs to be able to open his or her eyes a little more. It’s not always about the appearance; it’s about the person inside.
Printed in the 4/16/14 edition