Nov. 3 2010 12:00 AM

Scalding ’reasons’ tackles verbal violence


There are many reasons to see “reasons to be pretty,” Peppermint Creek Theatre Company’s latest production. A powerful theme and quality acting would be two of them.

The play opens with a fight in progress between a couple, Steph (Chelsea Witgen) and Greg (J.C. Kibbey). The more aggressive of the two, Steph unleashes an obscenity-laden tirade, a verbal assault that culminates in a physical one. A seemingly innocent comment that Greg made to his buddy Kent (Jesse Deardorff-Green) about Steph’s “regular” looks has made its way back to her and set in motion a chain reaction that impacts all of the principles.

The play is reminiscent of John Osborne’s “Look Back in Anger” in the manner in which the characters lash out at each other over emotions and conditions that they can’t change, if even define. Instead of Osborne’s class issues, LaBute tackles the role of physical looks in the success or failure of relationships. It is a theme that hits home with anyone who has ever felt less than perfect — that is, just about any human being who has access to a mirror.

Director Deborah Keller has cast the play well, particularly the male leads. Deardorff- Green’s gangly physique allows him to straddle chairs and take up space in direct proportion to Kent’s cocky attitude. He thinks he’s the guy who every guy wants to be, and is comfortable in his own misogyny.

Juxtaposed with Kent’s façade and physicality, Kibbey’s Greg is smaller in stature, movement and presence. He is a quiet and simple man who has no desire to be the center of attention in any venue. Kibbey understands his character and plays him with such authenticity that one imagines Greg’s face next to the dictionary entry for “hangdog.” His micro-expressions are especially effective in a scene where Steph berates him in a mall food court, attacking him from receding-hairline head to nail-bitten toes — and some ickier things in between.

Witgen has tapped into Steph’s rage perhaps too well. Steph lets her insecurity turn her into such a bitter and violent harpy that it is difficult for the audience to have any empathy for her.

Mary Wardell, as beauty-queen-turned-factory-security-guard Carly, exercises nice range as her character cracks under the pressure of pregnancy and marital insecurity. Her pain is palpable as she cries, “I don’t know why God had to make it so exhausting to trust you guys, but he did. And it sucks.”

Can I get an “amen”?

One ineffective aspect of the work is the series of monologues. All the characters have an opportunity to explain themselves to the audience. Allowing the characters to open up to each other would have been a more refined way to get the point across. LaBute should give the audience the benefit of the doubt that we can understand these characters without obvious confessions.

At its core, LaBute’s work is a simple story of the destructive power of a few words. Yet out of the ashes of the inferno there is some hope. There is not a happy nor tragic conclusion; rather, as in real life, some people learn and grow, some stagnate, some make compromises to survive, and some don’t change at all. That’s life, and it ain’t always pretty.

’reasons to be pretty’

Creek Theatre Company 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 4, Friday, Nov. 5 and
Saturday, Nov. 6 Creole Galley 1218 Turner St., Lansing $15, $10 for
students/seniors (517) 927-3016