Neil LaBute's reasons to be pretty starts in a startling and unconventional way. The moment the stage lights come up, we're thrust into the middle of the play's climax, a vicious bedroom argument. Stephanie is livid over something Greg has said. Greg tries to apologize but Steph won't let him.
In the current production from Jobsite Theater, it's a powerful and intensely acted scene, with Steph (Kari Goetz) bristling with barely controlled rage, bouncing off the bed, screaming, cursing and almost physically attacking Greg (Dayton Sinkia), whose efforts to calm her only inflame her further.
From there, though, the play goes nowhere. Despite four excellent performances, directed by David M. Jenkins, and a memorable scene or two, reasons to be pretty is about nothing other than nice guy Greg being surrounded by a bunch of truly horrific people. No one learns, grows, changes or repents.
Steph's the prime example. It turns out that what she's so angry about is that Greg, in a careless moment, has said Stephanie's face was "regular." She immediately ends an otherwise happy four-year relationship.
Even though she's portrayed by the inherently likable Goetz, Stephanie is as repellent as any character you'll ever see on stage or screen.
LaBute's characters are usually unpleasant. His best-known stage work is Bash: Latter-Day Plays, which depicts its Mormon characters so negatively that LaBute was kicked out of the Mormon church.
But unlike Bash, the plotless and pointless reasons to be pretty doesn't offer any reason for us to want to spend time with these horrid characters. It's just two solid hours of people you wouldn't want to spend five minutes with.
Despite all that unpleasantness, though, Jobsite's reasons to be pretty has plenty of rewards. Few playwrights have LaBute's gift for dialogue, and the writing in the play's most memorable scenes are indeed masterful.
Brian Smallheer's set has to serve as everything from a bedroom to back room of a warehouse to an upscale restaurant, and cleverly accomplishes all that without requiring lengthy scene changes.
Whether the rewards outweigh the negatives depends on why you go to the theater. The show has been selling out and has already been held over for an extra weekend, so early audiences are obviously enjoying it and saying good things about it.
Marty Clear is a Tampa freelance writer who specializes in performing arts. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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'reasons to be pretty'
Shows are 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday at Shimberg Playhouse at David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. Tickets start at $24.50. (813) 229-7827. jobsitetheater.org. Contains adult language, content and subject matter. Through June 5.