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!”

12 Responses to “White-Collar Playwright Denigrates Blue-Collar Workers in Reasons to be Pretty; Union Workers Should Storm Lyceum Theatre,”

  1. Blake Says:

    Wicked Witch: I love the new photo.

    And as to the rave reviews? It’s all about advertising sales and generating revenues. Woe unto to the theater critic who costs a publication an advertiser.

  2. Robert Anthony Says:

    Lynne,

    The new photo is terrific, as is the new coiffure, but you’re still better in person.

    Now to the review: You’ve simply proven that theatre works. You have been moved, perhaps not in the way the author intended, but moved nonetheless.

    I recall seeing Tambourines to Glory by Langston Hughes and even though I knew Langston, having acted in his Jerico Jim Crow with some of the best black actors of the day such as Bob Broadway, Mickie Grant, Joseph Attles, Gilbert Price, Rosalie King and Hilda Harris, I was appalled by his breaking down of the coveted fourth wall by encouraging the audience to become vocally involved. I was so uncomfortable in my seat that i completely missed the point. Since then I am happy to say I realize that this was indeed an homage to the play, the spirit and the author.

    Note from The Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Rob, I get your point, but I disagree with you. I want to be moved in a way that doesn’t make me question how much I had to pay for my ticket. And . . . thanks for the compliment re my new do!

  3. Dave Newton Says:

    Who is that person at the top of the column? As one who knows you only through these words and pictures, I’m gobsmacked. I didn’t think the old mug shot was so bad. But, hey, if blog-glam is the order of the day, I’m right there. Stunning, Lynne. And, besides, you are undimmed in the feist department, so I’ll still show up…though the new photo sets a decidedly Hamptonsesque tone for the proceedings.

    As to the play, I’ll have to take your word for it; I’m not likely to get to New York anytime soon, and my local community theatre group is planning “The Sunshine Boys” for the fall openings season.

    Note from The Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Dave Newton has a very interesting Web site dedicated to helping people over the age of 50 reinvent themselves if they want to. Check out his Web Site: 3rd Acts.

  4. Bonnie Calhoun Says:

    Wow Lynne! Awesome new do! The nephew has a good eye for composition. He got you just right.

    The theatre doesn’t thrill me like it once did. Maybe I’m just too old, and the playwrights too young :-) I’ll be in the 212 in July, but I’m spending the time at Thrillerfest and books!

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Thanks for dropping by again, Bonnie. Maybe I’ll checkout Thrillerfest if I’m in the city.

  5. Bridget Says:

    Love your new look WW. So glam! Thanks for the interesting and outspoken critique of Reasons to be Pretty; I’ll make a point of avoiding it. But a thumbs up to two out of three plays is not bad in my opinion. Keep up the blogging… love reading your insightful words of wisdom.

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Bridget is a first-time novelist located in the UK.

  6. Elizabeth Says:

    Have not seen the show; however, you have certainly made it controversial.

    Did see Desire Under The Elms with Brian Dennehy. Extremely intense. I do like O’Neil, but I really needed something light. Show is extremely provocative as well as sexy.

    Note from The Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): You liked the O’Neil play? Watch for my posting next week.

  7. Elizabeth B. Says:

    Lynne,

    Never liked Neil LaButte.

    See Project Shaw for amazing theater about intelligent people trying to make the world a better place, usually hysterically funny, always with fantastic actors. Only $20 a ticket. Just search for ProjectShaw.

    Elizabeth

  8. Michael Allen Says:

    Oh well, Neil Labute. You should have known. Wouldn’t go if you paid me.

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): I’m thrilled to hear from Michael Allen again. He is AKA Grumpy Old Bookman of Wiltshire, England. His blog from 2005 to 2007 was a must-read for authors and publishers. The Guardian ranked Grumpy Old Bookman as one of the top 10 literary blogs in 2005. GREAT information can be found at the blog. Michael Allen is also an author and publisher. Just one of his books is Survival of Rats in the Slush Pile.

  9. Mike Savage Says:

    Lynne: I like the pic. Keep that neph. around. As for the play, stand-up comics have often said that vulgarity is the easy way, that it takes guts and a glorious intelligence to pass on the easy (dirty) jokes.

    Note from The Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Savage Press publishes “authors of merit telling stories of significance.”

  10. Gina Burgess Says:

    I agree with you Lynne. Some times there is no truth in hype and if we can’t believe in the teaser, what’s there to believe in? I absolutely hate it when I read a book’s jacket and get all excited about the story, only to find out that it was all a sham. I can’t imagine what it would be like to spend all that for a play and be betrayed in the seat. Sigh…

  11. Ted the Cat Says:

    Love the new photo, but it’s not the same as real you. But I’m well-fed.

    Note from the Wicked Witch of Publishing (TM): Thanks for checking in with your mom, Ted, you hunka hunka of burning feline hatred. And don’t forget to thank best-selling author Tom Clavin (Halsey’s Typhoon and The Last Stand of Fox Company: The True Story of U.S. Marines in Combat) for keeping your bowl filled and letting you out to terrorize the neighborhood at night while I am away.

  12. staghounds Says:

    No matter what happens, somebody always needs his roof fixed.

    I’m fortunate that my background always included lots of contact with people from the top and bottom of the social scale. I was always told that people’s hearts are usually pretty much the same across classes, and my experience matched the advice.

    Five years of physical labor made me very impatient with artists who present “blue collar” workers as different in kind. Seems as if they are always noble savages, helpless victims of the man, spunky scrappers who want to cross the barriers and move up, or brutes. Funny how easily artists fall into stereotyping, isn’t it?

    And the new picture is lovely, it gives a powerful impression of several qualities all at once.

    I envy your photogeneity.

    I must have done something horrid to Louis Daguerre in a previous life, because his invention is taking a terrible revenge upon me. Often, people think my pictures are actually of someone else.

    Maybe a high-mileage cousin, that explains the resemblance.

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