Saturday, May 4, 2013

REVIEW: Clark's "reasons to be pretty" Communicates the Sometimes Uglier Side of Relationships

Breakdown in Communication 

Clark College presents the Tony nominated comedy-drama "reasons to be pretty" written by Neil LaBute and directed by Pat Rohrbach.

The writing in this play in very similar to David Mamet’s, especially his one-act play, Sexual Perversities in Chicago (film—About Last Night w/ Rob Lowe and Jim Belushi). It purports to examine the way people really converse, with overlapping dialogue and actions, unfinished sentences, unclear motives and awkward pauses. This play covers that same territory.

The story is about two couples, who are connecting, disconnecting, then re-connecting again, differently. It is not a pleasant story but, perhaps, a realistic one. It’s about friendships, abuse, love, deceit, bonding and communication (or the lack thereof). Greg (Zac Palica) and Kent (Derek Neiman) have been friends since childhood and are currently working in the same factory. Greg has had a live-in girlfriend, Steph (Amanda Oberrecht), for four years, who is also friends with Kent’s wife, Carly (Jessica Wisniewski).

Steph has a foul mouth when she gets angry and, at the beginning of the play, she is reaming her boy friend a new a…hole for an off-hand remark he made concerning her face. This escalates into her moving out. Meanwhile, Greg’s best friend, Kent, has a roving eye and wandering hands, especially for a new chick at the plant. Greg feels honor-bound to his friend and keeps this little secret from Kent’s wife, who also works at the plant, as a security guard.

This makes for some awkward moments in the lunch room for Greg, as he feels guilty about keeping this secret from Carly, as well as not approving of his friend’s actions. He attempts a reunion with Steph, which goes awry. Finally he and Kent have a big blow-out on the baseball field, which may reduce their friendship to ashes but, like the proverbial Phoenix, new and, hopefully, better people, will arise from the flames.

It’s amazing the amount of truths the author is able to glean from men, women and their relationships. He hones in on the stero-types, such as the macho-man who thinks that all women are his for the taking. Or the poor sod who is clueless and insensitive to a woman’s needs. As well as those people who are helpless to break away from an abusive partner, because they love them, in spite of their faults (or, possibly, because of them). As one character put it, “God made it so hard to trust guys, and it sucks!”

Time slogs on, and those who do not (or cannot) change and evolve, will fall to the wayside. It is, perhaps, after all, Natures path. This story examines all the possibilities and tries not to make judgments as to who’s right or wrong. It is, when all’s said and done, in the “eye of the beholder.” 

The Breakdown

Director Rohrbach should be commended for her ability to keep this youthful cast striving relentlessly to give authenticity to the words and situations. The breakneck speed that propels them forward does have the ring and sting of truth. The set, which is adequate, isn’t really even needed. This is not a “set” play, as it takes place in the avenues of the mind and the alleys of the heart. And the music adds just the right flavor for the moods of the story.

The cast is quite remarkable and, more importantly, believable. Had they not been, this play could have fallen on its face. Mr. Palica is quite the bundle of nerves, frustration and inadequacy that the part calls for. He is perfect for the part. And Mr. Neiman plays the stereotyped dumb jock, a bully who has stayed entrenched in boyhood, to a tee. The confrontation between them on the ball-field is riveting. Bravo.

Ms. Oberrecht is, at first, a screechy harridan who seems to have no life outside of her R-rated spewing. But, as the plays progresses, we see her as very human. A woman who just “can’t stop lovin’ her man,” no matter his failings. Her monologue on the faults of her guy is spot on, both sad and funny at the same time, and she does it well. And Ms. Wisniewski is equally good, portraying the dutiful, beautiful wife who just wants a “normal” home-life but feels it crumbling around her.

This cast must be emotionally exhausted by the end of the play, as should the audience. Be warned, the play has a good amount of harsh language and adult situations so, if that is offensive to you, this might not be your type of show.

I recommend this show. If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

"reasons to be pretty" plays through May 18th at Clark College's Decker Theatre, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way. Check out their website for further information or call 360-992-2370. Tickets may be purchased through the Clark College Bookstore by mail, by telephone, in person, or at the door if tickets are still available. General admission tickets are $12 each with special pricing for senior ($10) and students/alumni ($8).To reach the bookstore, call (360) 992-2815.

WARNING: This play contains adult language and mature themes.

Review by Dennis Sparks, Guest Reviewer

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