White-Collar Playwright Denigrates Blue-Collar Workers in Reasons to be Pretty; Union Workers Should Storm Lyceum Theatre,
Iím on a theater binge: God of Carnage last week and Reasons to be Pretty and Mary Stuart this week. Two out of three were terrific, but Reasons to be Pretty was such a slam against blue-collar workers that this white-collar girl, sitting in the midst of an audience of white-collar workers, was embarrassed. The play was billed as an examination of America’s obsession with physical beauty and a funny/dark coming-of-age tale.† You could have fooled me.
Wow, Iíd love to see that play. Too bad I didnít.
Thatís why I was so disappointed in Neil Labuteís play in spite of its original theme about how Steph (a hairdresser) would handle being blindsided by the knowledge that her boyfriend (a frozen foods employee) really doesnít find her particularly good looking.
Itís Not OK for White Collar Playwrights to Dis Blue-Collar Workers
Some of the best, most dependable guys I know are blue-collar, hands-on workers. Who ya gonna count on when your car is buried in a snow bank at two in the morning and you need somebody to haul your sorry you-know-what out of there? Who ya gonna count on when the toilet tank breaks and water is pouring through the ceiling? Who ya gonna count on when you need someone who can MITER? (Oh, yes, I know, YOU can miter!) Well, you get the idea.
So aggressive and offensive were three out of four of the characters’ attitudes and dialogues throughout the play that I found three out of four of the characters just plain repugnant. Sorry, Mr. Labute, but I could care less about Greg and Steph. It wasn’t just the potty mouths. It was the in-your-face, disrespectful and spiteful exchanges between longtime friends and current lovers. Is this really the way men who offload frozen vegetables from the back of trucks think and speak? Is this really how women associated with working men talk to them? I donít think so. And grabbing your wifeís butt in the lunchroom, even if she is working in the same company, will get your butt frogmarched straight into the street. It’s the law, Mr. Labute. In the city and in the suburbs. You donít get away with that kind of behavior anymore. Not in 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006. Not on the 19th floor or in the mailroom. Not in the city. Not in the suburbs. Yet, according to the playbill, Reason to be Pretty takes place not long ago in the outlying suburbs. I don’t think so. And I also donít think a character in 2009 would say, “How’s tricks?” This play definitely does not work for me.
Great Reviews? What’s Up with That?
Can you believe it? Here are some of the reviews of Reasons to be Pretty:
“Wonderfully acted . . . freshest dialog.” — Ben Brantly, The New York Times
“. . . highlight of the season . . . .” — Michael Kuchwara, Associated Press
“Ferociously funny.” — John Simon Bloomberg News
“Best new Broadway play of the season. ” — Richard Zoglin, TIME
“5 Stars.” — Elysa Gardner, USA Today
Yes, some of the exchanges were very clever, even poignant, but Steven Pasqualeís handsome, though thuggish character, Ken, was retro and unfunny. Carly, played by Piper Perabo, was the picture-perfect, night-shift security guard, but a stereotypically vacuous, blond creature. The only character with an air of civility about him was Greg, played by Thomas Sadowski. The playwright had him reading Poe and Hawthorne during lunch hour at 3 AM. So I guess he really wasnít blue-collar after all. And the girlfriend, Steph, played by Marin Ireland was just plain vulgar. Who would abide that harridan anyhow?
In “A Note from the Playwright” from the preface to Reasons to be Pretty, Neil LaBute states, ďI have a profound respect for work and workers and communities that live from paycheck to paycheck. The worst day I have had writing is better than the best day I ever had working in a factory, and the people who do it, year after year, because that’s life, and food and rent and child support must be paid, have all my respect.Ē
Well, yes, Mr. Labute, then show some respect for them.
(Reasons to be Pretty: A Play by Neil Labute was published by Faber & Faber in 2008.)
Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): And now to something important. What do you think of my new look and photo? The brilliant nephew, who also manages this site for me, took the photo last weekend. Let’s hear it for a little “soft focus!”