It's not hard to put yourself in the shoes of Neil LaBute's latest accidental fuck-up of a character, Greg. Just have a few drinks with your best friend (call him Kent), and then, while talking about the undeniably hot chick who just started working the register, slur something about how, yeah, she's hot, your girlfriend of four years isn't pretty like that. It's a shame that Kent's wife, Carly, is not only in the next room, listening, but that her best friend, Steph, happens to be your girlfriend, but that should at least clue you in on why, as the lights rise, you're stuck in a fight you can't win.
Reasons To Be Pretty takes Greg's words at face value; the question the audience has to determine, as Steph calls him out on what she perceives to be the relationship-ending honesty of his words, is whether or not LaBute is capable of writing the truth. The answer: yes, and no. LaBute writes in a sort of hyper-realism, in which the situations are all too genuine, but the dialogue surrounding them is so crisp that it tends to create artificialities that stifle any genuine emotion: protecting the characters with patter. His prolific writing makes him a lazy playwright: the character in the center is real, but everyone else is just acting on him: they feed him pap, exit the stage, and cease to exist.
Reasons To Be Pretty ends up the same: as Greg, Thomas Sadoski is a marvelously human lead. He weathers Hurricane Steph's questions with a justly confused attitude, he tries to win her back with the best intentions, he puts on a happy face (and lets it crack) trying to deal with her new boyfriend and Kent's infidelities, and tries to do the right thing, even though the books he's read don't tell him what that is. However, Alison Pill's rabid rage against him comes out of nowhere: she does brilliantly to give Greg something to react to, and her acting is cool as ice, but it lacks humanity. (She gets some of it back in the second act, but by then, it seems like she's just putting us on.) The same, more so, for Pablo Schreiber's turn as Kent: he acts as if he knows he's the asshole, and he wallows in that, muddying up any truth or clear intent to his actions. He's still acting (I hope: this seems to be a stereotype for him), but it's all focused on Greg; nothing touches him. Surprisingly, LaBute leaves something in the tank for Carly, and Piper Perabo snaps it up, sharply transitioning from a walking punchline ("That's why they call it night," she says. "Because it's dark.") into the sort of woman who is smart enough to know that she's a little stupid, and brave enough to face those feelings.
Perhaps understanding the limitations of the play, Terry Kinney directs to LaBute's strengths: the production is extremely well-oiled, from the swift scene changes to the rapid-fire dialogue, which pops even when it's firing blanks. The set--a room boxed in by Wal-Mart-like storage--is the only ambiguous thing in the play; everything else is sharp and to the point. And that's perhaps what LaBute most needs to work on: Reasons To Be Pretty suffers from the inclusion of four aimless monologues (one per character) that are meant to illuminate, but only reiterate what's already coming across in the scenes. This is that laziness back to haunt LaBute: if he knew how to write more developed characters, perhaps he'd be able to trust them a little more.