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reasons to be pretty

The problem with playwright Neil LaBute is that it's impossible to take him seriously.

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Because David Mamet wasn't dyspeptic enough, God went and invented Neil LaBute. Both are never happier than when wallowing in misery, and if easy cynicism were a crime they'd be doing 15 to 20 in the big house.

There are a few differences. As much as I dislike what he writes, I grudgingly admit that Mamet can, in fact, write. LaBute, on the other hand? Well ...

reasons to be pretty, in a Pittsburgh premiere from No Name Players, feels a lot like your typical LaBute script: pig men and the women who love them. In this one, a wayward remark from a man about his girlfriend's appearance starts it off, and damn if LaBute doesn't manage to squeeze a 90-minute one-act out of it.

Thanks to incredibly tight direction by Marci Woodruff, 90 minutes have never moved as quickly or as seamlessly as in this No Name production. LaBute doesn't exactly write human speech, but it is highly theatrical, and Woodruff does an amazing job guiding her cast through it all: Karen Baum, Clara H. Childress, Don DiGiulio and Jody O'Donnell go after this script like junkies chasing crack and all turn in blistering, economical and acid-etched performances.

It's a shame, though, they had to expend so much energy on such a goofy play. The problem, or perhaps my problem, with LaBute is that it's impossible to take him seriously. I can't think of any other playwright so obvious in his desire to shock. He piles appalling event on top of amoral hypocrisy and slathers it over with cheap pessimism. But he's so gleefully ham-fisted he overshoots revulsion and winds up ridiculous. I mean, anyone who's raised an adolescent boy knows that poop and fart jokes aren't quite as shocking as the cracking-voiced teller believes them to be.

But to come full circle, the main trouble with reasons is it's pretty much a carbon copy of Mamet's earliest hit, Sexuality Perversity in Chicago — except the women aren't written as well. When David Mamet is writing more believable female characters than you, it's time to stop and assess.

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