Ghostlight's take on Neil LaBute's 'reasons to be pretty' is universally well-acted, if unevenly presented

reasons to be pretty
8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, through Aug. 28
3110 N. Walker
Ghostlight Theatre Club
$15 adults, $10 seniors and students

Ghostlight Theatre Club has kicked off the theater season with a solid, if not soaring, production of "reasons to be pretty" by Neil LaBute. Well-acted by the four-member cast, the production eases into the working-class milieu where LaBute sets the play, the last of a trilogy with "The Shape of Things" and "Fat Pig," both produced previously by Ghostlight.

The play opens with a full-bore cuss-fight between Greg (Scott Hynes) and his live-in girlfriend, Steph (Victoria Stahl), over something bad that she heard from a friend that Greg said about her. (Gosh, it sounds like junior high school all over again, except with more profanity.)

But what's eating Steph goes beyond Greg's alleged insult. She has some serious self-image issues. And, besides, Greg can't be all bad: He reads literary classics on his lunch hour in the break room of the warehouse where he works the graveyard shift.

We also meet Greg's co-worker, the boorish Kent (Jeff Burleson), and his wife, Carly (Rachel Bouton). Kent is the type that even the most pacifistic of us eventually just wants to smack right in the chops. When Greg finally gives Kent what's coming to him, the audience applauded. LaBute's characters are not above exacting a little revenge, and Greg gets back at Kent in an offstage scene that is left entirely to the audience members' imaginations.

LaBute's characters have feelings and hopes and dreams like all human beings, but they remain largely superficial. Greg shows a little gumption at the end. Steph appears to be headed toward a life of serial marriages, and one shudders to think about what happens to Kent and Carly.

Although LaBute's plays are disturbing and hard to watch at times "? and that's how the playwright wants it "? they still lack the devastating kick of, say, Martin McDonagh's work.

Hynes, Stahl, Burleson and Bouton give uniformly fine performances. Hynes is as reliable as any actor in the city, effectively playing dramatic, comedic and musical roles. Stahl seemed to be in less-than-full voice (from screaming in rehearsals?) at the reviewed show, but that did not detract from her performance much. Burleson gives one of his best performances ever, but in LaBute's script, he has a lot to do.

This is Ghostlight's second season in its Walker Avenue performance space, and the results have been uneven. Its productions are presented on a definite budget "? nothing wrong with that; we can't all drive Rolls-Royces "? but directors sometimes have trouble with the audience-friendly-but-rudimentary venue, which would be an excellent space for experimental theater.

Director Emily Etherton has simplified the staging for "reasons to be pretty," but still, stagehands schlepp props on and offstage between every scene while recorded rock music plays. The Ghostlight space is fine for any play the company wants to present, but it requires some creative thinking by directors and designers. "?Larry Laneer

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