Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
December 13, 2013
Reasons to be pretty; reasons to be Santa. A Bad Boy playwright and a local theater do their thing.
The world of Neil LaBute isn’t a very pretty place. His male characters are often Neanderthals who judge women exclusively by their looks. The gals are often bitchy or shrill. Profanity abounds. Communication is elusive, if not impossible. All these elements converge in his 2009 comic drama, “reasons to be pretty.”
The dark, edgy piece begins with a rapacious, obscenity-laced diatribe by a woman acting on a report from her best friend that her boyfriend referred to his main squeeze of four years as “regular,” which she interprets as ‘ugly.’ Greg tries lying, back-pedaling, only digging himself deeper. Steph is beyond rational thinking; she’s been cut to the core. It’s the end of their relationship. Of course, one has to consider the good-looking, mean-girl ‘best friend’ who felt it necessary to reveal this overheard conversation. Later, Greg will betray his best friend, too. Nice folks. And in a sequel, “Reasons to be Happy,” recently seen Off Broadway, Greg will be dating his friend’s ex-wife.
These are young people who are more familiar with adultery than adulthood. They are so very far from growing up, even at the end, and even with the very slightest of learning curves that Greg supposedly undergoes. His work-buddy in a dead-end warehouse job is Kent, husband to Carly, who becomes pregnant just as her mate is stepping out with someone even prettier. The knuckle-scraping of Kent is audible.
ion theatre scored big with another LaBute beauty, “bash,” which they brilliantly nailed, and even reprised. But this time, though the performances are commendable, the production doesn’t get to the bleak, black but decidedly ambivalent heart of the play. Most of these characters are portrayed on one note, most often anger. They convey the histrionics excellently, but it’s all surface. The cast, and director Claudio Raygoza, have failed to mine the subtext, to show the fragility and vulnerability of this fearful foursome.
There isn’t much subtext to mine in the new creation of Circle Circle dot dot , whose mission is to delve into San Diego subcultures. This time, resident playwright Katherine Harroff set her sights on mall Santas . “Bearded” sounded like a potential for comic insight. But it’s really just one day in the life of one new Santa. Though the costumes are great, there are precious few revelations, and plenty of over-the-top performances, particularly in the silly kidlets and their inevitable tantrums. We got a lot more about a wide range of Santas from David Sedaris’ killer Macy’s elf monologue, “The SantaLand Diaries.”
I guess we all need to learn from Mick Jagger, dramatically as well as seasonally: “You can’t always get what you want.”
Circle Circle dot dot’s “Bearded” runs through December 21, at the 10th Avenue Theatre downtown.
“ reasons to be pretty” continues at ion theatre, on the edge of Hillcrest, through December 28.
©2013 PAT LAUNER