A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW
Self Produced Theatre, one of Jacksonville’s newest theatre groups, chose Reasons to Be Pretty by Neil LaBute for the first main stage show in their new theatre, with four performances during April 26 – May 4, 2019. The company, which was founded by Tyler Lewis, has been nomadic, staging productions in hospitable venues throughout the area. Their permanent home is now at 1840 Southside Boulevard, Unit 3B. Of note, the space includes a cafe with coffee bar; an official opening of the Black Box Cafe is planned in the near future.
LaBute’s play was Tony-nominated for best play after opening on Broadway in 2009: the award went to God of Carnage instead. He has been a prolific writer; we recall seeing Fat Pig some years ago in the beaches area. Words are weapons in his plays and the theme of several of his previous works involves issues related to physical attributes.
The play opens during a raging expletive-laden argument between Steph (Katie Gile) and Greg (Hays Jacobs), both in their thirties, who have been living together for the past four years or so. Steph is absolutely furious and threatening mayhem; her threats include murdering Greg’s fish before she leaves him forever. And what’s the quarrel about? It seems Greg doesn’t think Steph is pretty. It’s about one word – he described her face as “regular.” Not pretty, not beautiful, not lovely – “regular.” He apologizes and pleads for forgiveness and asks her to stay during the tirade. Repeatedly. The scene required incredible stamina as it was demanding and prolonged.
Gile has previously appeared in works that include LaBute’s The Shape of Things, Taming of the Shrew and UNF’s Playwright Project. Jacobs is a DA graduate who has appeared in many roles on our local stages which included Ken in Red, Roy in Angels in America, and Sampson in Romeo and Juliet. Both do a marvelous – and convincing – job in portraying these characters.
Greg and his best friend Kent (Mitchell Wohl) have been buddies since their school days and work together in a large warehouse. After Kent commented on the attractiveness of a recent hire during a casual conversation, Greg had described Steph’s face as “regular,” then added he loved her more than he could ever love anyone else. Kent is married to the beautiful but insecure security guard Carly (Erica Villanueva), who was with them at the time and related Greg’s belittling utterance to Steph.
In the aftermath of the quarrel, Steph moves out of the apartment. She takes everything she can get her hands on, including the car, leaving Greg bewildered and very very lonely. Can a relationship really come apart over one uncensored word? Perhaps – if, perhaps, the wounded party harbored an unacknowledged wish to escape and look elsewhere?
Greg and Kent meet frequently throughout the play in the breakroom. They share an interest in the same men’s league baseball team. Greg is generally easy going and enjoys reading; he selects authors that include Edgar Allen Poe and Washington Irving. In contrast, Kent is more out-going and frequently laces his conversation with vulgar language. And he cheats on his pregnant wife, which eventually leads to a physical fight after Greg refuses to assist with his deception.
Wohl debuted a number of years ago in Fiddler on the Roof, and has appeared in a wide range of productions since which have included The Crucible, Godspell, and The Miracle Worker. He is well cast as the somewhat immature Kent, whose main interests are sports and beautiful women.
Villanueva previously appeared in Women’s Work by Kelby Siddons and the Yo Soy Latino Showcase. She did a good job of portraying the self-doubts and concerns about unwanted attention of a women seen by others as beautiful in contemporary society.
The theatre has about thirty seats and offers an intimate atmosphere for performances. We are looking forward to additional productions. And cappuccinos.
Opening May 18th at 10 pm for one show only is The Hot Comedy Show: The Sequel.
Their next scheduled play is Peter and Alice by John Logan, which is based on an actual encounter when the original Alice in Wonderland came face to face with the original Peter Pan in a London bookstore in 1932. Dates are July 12 – 13 and 19 – 20, 2019.