No one familiar with the work of Neil LaBute will be surprised at hearing that his transferred-to-Broadway reasons to be pretty, now at the Lyceum Theatre, begins with a twentysomething man and woman going at it hammer and tongs in a series of he-versus-she recriminations. But despite the inclusion of the sort of starkly incisive and abusive talk of the sort at which LaBute excels, the play — which has been somewhat trimmed for its uptown incarnation — still registers as a “here-we-go-again” enterprise.
Fortunately, its flaws are partially redeemed by its four-person cast: Thomas Sadoski, who has deepened his already probing performance as factory worker Greg, the intensely gifted Marin Ireland, who deserves to be kissed by the producers on the hem of her late-in-play asymmetrical skirt for immersing herself in the role of Greg’s aggrieved girlfriend Steph, and Piper Perabo (the show’s other holdover) and Steven Pasquale as married co-workers Carly and Kent, who also warrant kudos for their committed performances under Terry Kinney’s acidly biting direction.
The reason Steph is loudly warring with boyfriend Greg at the play’s outset is because she’s had word from Carly that Greg described her as ugly to Kent. As the shouting crescendos on David Gallo’s blue-collar-environs set, Greg insists he was expressing his love for Steph, even if she has a “regular” face. Yet, despite his sometimes obscenity-riddled protestations, Steph wants none of it and abruptly quits the four-year relationship.
As time passes, Greg — who reads Poe and Hawthorne during his breaks from packing frozen food — has to learn not only to live with Steph’s decision, but to tolerate the increasingly boorish behavior of the muscular Kent, another of LaBute’s arrested-development boys in a man’s buff body. Among other things, Greg is obliged to keep mum to newly-pregnant Carly about Kent’s affair with (unseen) co-worker Crystal. The boys come to bloody blows when Greg finally declares he’ll no longer provide alibis for Kent, and the damage doesn’t stop there.
Ultimately, Greg is forced to examine his own immature behavior and even rectify it — an act which heretofore has been atypical of LaBute’s testosterone-overloaded male characters. But the surprising turn of events may come too late to mollify patrons sated by the playwright’s all-too- familiar verbal and physical attacks. (It’s to his credit, however, that in the move to Broadway, he’s excised the awkward monologues that stopped the earlier version in its careering tracks.)
Moreover, while he tells the audience as much as they need know about Steph, Carly and Kent, he hasn’t supplied enough information on Greg. Who is this guy working for years at an assembly-line job while reading what sounds like the syllabus for an Early-American Lit course? Nonetheless, the superb Sadoski, who makes Greg’s self-examination painfully palpable right up to his fade-out look, is one of the main reasons that reasons is still worth watching.