Opening Nights: Reasons to Be Pretty

Another LaBute look at lookism—even more vicious than its predecessor.

It opens in the middle of a fight. Not a dignified duel or argument, but a flailing, thrashing, screaming, eye-clawing, bed-ripping, irrational, brain-eating, ego-mauling lovers' spat. This 2008 Neil LaBute comedy, receiving its Seattle premiere, is even more vicious than its predecessor, Fat Pig (produced earlier this year by Artattack). Yet ArtsWest's spirited, meticulous production brings out unexpected compassion for the four 20-somethings whose lives are upended by one tiny, innocuous, and not untrue comment. Though he likes to read Hawthorne and Poe, Greg (played by versatile everyman Shawn Law) also sports a back brace over his blue-collar onesie and hoists pallets for a living. Until one unfortunate nanomoment of candor, he's been happily living with his "cute" girlfriend Steph (Angela DiMarco), a hairdresser. Are they in love or merely relieved not to be single? We don't know, and neither do they, and it doesn't seem to matter. That is, until Steph's best friend Carly (Allison Standley), who is taller, more conventionally pretty, and who wields a dominatrix's attitude in her cop outfit, captivating all the boys, happens to pass on to Steph a comment made by Greg about his girlfriend's looks. Is it Carly's intention to help Steph, or ruin her? LaBute keeps that mum, but plants plenty of intriguing evidence for both theories, as scenes alternate between Greg's attempts to reconcile and the deterioration of Carly's own relationship with her churlish husband Kent (soul-patched, tatted David Hogan), a workplace friend of Greg's. So much pain is born of weakness, as virtually every LaBute script reiterates—and as Burton Yuen's cleverly insipid sets underscore. Whether condo, warehouse rec room, or food court, all of LaButeland here feels like a cubicle—drab and spiritually confining. Fortunately, hints of poetry glint Mamet-like in the crude patois, and director Katjana Vadeboncoeur (best known for Titus and Mr. Marmalade at WET) mines the awkward and dreary landscape with Coenesque virtuosity. Carly sticks her tongue out cowlike to signal boredom. Kent jumps on the table ape-style, all but beating his chest to telegraph the primal importance of winning their league's baseball trophy. Work-shift bells belch, as if signaling the change of classes in junior high. Having recently scooped up a series of eccentric local roles from Abe Lincoln's girlfriend to a half-wild Canadian recluse to an alcoholic nymphomaniac, DiMarco brings her potent secret weird sauce to the role of Steph, which with all the yelling and insecurity could easily get insufferable in less capable (and less bizarre) hands. DiMarco, while far from unattractive or even "regular," manages—through greasy hair, not using makeup, affecting a slight underbite, and scrunching some extra chins in early scenes—to look distinctly unglamorous. And while there's an awful lot of nattering in this script—which feels at once smart and real and occasionally bloated (even after cutting four monologues from the original production)—the cast's energetic commitment carries it through. Law in particular finds a seemingly limitless repertoire of nuanced suffering as he absorbs everyone else's abuse. Like Fat Pig's protagonist, he may be LaBute's villain-in-disguise...the everyman who seems all-innocent, but who makes the world a meaner place by going along with everyone else's (to use the playwright's favorite and ludicrously overused word) shit.

 
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