Playwright Neil LaBute is known for his unflinching, cynical plays that feature characters at their worst, often worthy of audience disgust. He is also regarded for his rapid-fire, true-to-life dialogue that has actors talking over one another and cutting off each other’s lines. Duke City Reparatory Theatre’s production of reasons to be pretty has both of these elements. But Amelia Ampuero, the director of the play, says this LaBute script is much more palatable than some of his other material.
The story begins with Greg, the main character—played by Abe Jallad—describing the face of his girlfriend, Stephanie—played by Lauren Myers. The word he uses is “regular.” Of course Greg’s conversation is overheard by Stephanie’s best friend, who immediately calls and informs her, and things unravel from there. Ampuero says it’s a play about body image—the pressure that people, women in particular, put on themselves to be beautiful and to look a certain way.
But it’s also a story about relationships and what it means to be in one. “I think at the heart of it, it’s really a story about growing up and becoming an adult,” she says. “And making the choices and taking responsibility for your actions and everything that that means.”
Since Ampuero is also the artistic director of Duke City Reparatory Theatre, she had a big part in choosing the play. It ran on Broadway for three months in 2008, receiving positive response from critics. One thing Ampuero likes about reasons to be pretty, which is the last in a thematically linked trilogy that includes Fat Pig and The Shape of Things, is the complex, relatable female characters. LaBute’s women can be bitchy and manipulating, such as Evelyn in The Shape of Things. Or, if an actress isn’t careful, they can seem one-dimensional.
“I think at the heart of it, it’s really a story about growing up and becoming an adult, and making the choices and taking responsibility for your actions and everything that that means.”
-Amelia Ampuero, Artistic Direcotr, Duke City Reparatory Theatre
“I could see that there was definitely a way to make them that way,” Ampuero says, “if we were very on-the-surface. But ... he’s written women who were very strong, going through relationships breaking up and marriages and things like that. I felt that they were a lot more complex and more developed than some of the LaBute women that I’ve read.” She and the cast are delving as deeply as possible into the roles, teasing out every detail to round out the characters.
Ampuero says the rehearsal process has been joyful. The play opens with an explosive argument, but Ampuero says it’s not taking an emotional toll on the cast. “I can see how in another situation it would be really emotionally taxing, but the cast is such a great group of people.” They have, she says, managed to keep the energy buoyant. She also says that out of the three plays in the trilogy, reasons has the biggest heart and ends with the most hope. Greg finds out that beauty is about more than physical appearance. “That was one of the reasons I decided to do it. I like that message,” Ampuero says, “and I like that message for women right now, especially.”