The Broadway production three seasons back spoke to me, and so does the dynamic staging that opened Wednesday night at Philadelphia Theatre Company. Because it takes on an issue not much talked about but wholly relevant - how we perceive being attractive and what that means for us - reasons to be pretty is an indelicate little gem; it tackles, in a raw but real way, how we think, and how that translates into what we say, and how we may not realize we're slighting someone when we are.
LaBute's play is one of three he has written about such perceptions, and it becomes diffuse - possibly too much so - in its subject matter; the first half sticks to the notions of being pretty (or not) and of respect for someone you love. The second half becomes more a study of its four characters, and the play branches out to examine workplace relations, friendship, trust, and lying. But look at all this as a portrait of the evolution of one largely innocent but careless comment, and you've found the cortex of the play.
Certainly, director Maria Mileaf found it for this production - it's seamless from the first ranting moment to the sensible resolution. It has a great Greg, the poor guy who drops the bomb, in Daniel Abeles, an actor so naturally reeking of vulnerability you can watch him devolve into a puddle of it - which you'll want to do in a beautifully played scene set in a food court, where his character is verbally eviscerated by the girlfriend, who has moved out of their apartment.
She's played by Genevieve Perrier, the busy local actress who - can I write this in a piece about this particular show? - is way prettier than she's purposely made out to be here. Her look matches the shrillness she plumbs from her character.
Their friends are affectingly played by Paul Felder (who gives his character a sense of constant anger I didn't before notice and may not fully buy) and Elizabeth Stanley, as the manipulative tattletale.
The wholesale verbal sparring turns in different instances to a slap, a scuffle, and a fight - and the weak slap and scuffle should be more vibrant to be believable.
Not the words, though, which make you wonder whether sentiments you've coolly dropped have landed with a force you did not foresee.
reasons to be pretty
Through June 24 at Philadelphia Theatre Company's Suzanne Roberts Theatre, Broad and Lombard Streets. Tickets: $46-$59. Information: 215-985-0420 or www.philadelphiatheatrecompany.org.
Contact Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727, email@example.com, or #philastage on Twitter.