By Margo McGeehan
KU’s Actors Creating Theatre (ACT) is kicking off the fall season with an evocative, award-winning play about society’s obsession with physical appearance, the authenticity of beauty and romance in the modern age.
‘Reasons to be Pretty,’ written by acclaimed playwright Neil LaBute, revolves around the intertwined friendships between two couples; Greg and Steph and Kent and Cathy. The couples are dissatisfied with their dead-end lives, and how a seemingly harmless remark about one’s appearance can spiral into internal deceit, infidelity and emotional betrayal.
It initially ran off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in 2008 for a limited engagement; it later premiered on Broadway March 13, 2009 at the Lyceum Theatre and ran until June 14 for 85 performances. Now it will be making its debut at KU for a four-night run, presented through special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service, Inc.
‘Reasons to be Pretty’ is the directorial debut for students Erika Cassell and Zane Rutter. Cassell’s previous ACT performances include her turn as evil queen bee Heather Chandler in ‘Heathers the Musical’ back in January, while Rutter’s last stage credit was the nervous, hapless Dwight in ‘Dead Man’s Cell Phone’ th found ththis past spring. Despite their inexperience, boe process incredibly rewarding.
“Working on ‘Reasons to be Pretty’ has been rigorous but valuable,” said Cassell. “Seeing how different actors played the same role differently has broadened my own abilities as a director and an actor and gave me a more round perspective of the characters themselves.”
“‘Reasons to be Pretty’ ll be ho’ve ever directed and, I’is the first stage play Inest, it was one hell of a ride,” said Rutter. “Getting everyone together through the casting, gathering the props on day-long escapades to shopping centers, starting the rehearsal process- it was all enlightening and enlivening and I wouldn’t have had my directorial debut be with any other show or cast.”
‘Reasons to be Pretty’ will be staged at the Little Theater in Schaeffer Auditorium on Sept. 29 and 30 at 7 p.m. as well as Oct. 1 at 2 and 7 p.m.
Unusually for ACT, ‘Reasons to be Pretty’ is a double-casted production and performance dates are alternated between casts; the ‘blue’ cast will perform the Thursday and Saturday evening shows, while the ‘green’ cast will perform the Friday evening and Saturday matinee shows.
The ‘blue’ cast stars Ben Winn as Greg, Nickey Siegerman as Steph, Chris Cooper as Kent and Mary Kate Thornton as Carly; the ‘green’ cast stars Winn again as Greg, Schaffer Stark as Steph, Sean Connors as Kent and Elaine Knox as Carly.
Due to the raw and realistic nature of the play, many of the cast members found it incredibly satisfying to be able to act out characters that mirror the multifaceted roles we play in society.
“[Carly] is a character I have really grown a connection to because I see a lot of myself in her. She goes through so much in her relationship with her husband Kent because he sees her as this object instead of his wife,” said Thorton.
The cast agreed that ‘Reasons to be Pretty’ is a challenging, critical and ultimately gratifying perspective into the damaging effects of beauty culture.
“‘Reasons to be Pretty’ written in such a way that sounds is unlike any I have ever seen or worked on,like real overlapping conversations, rather than normal play dialogue,” said Seigerman. “Each character’s emotions and connections feel genuine, like a real drama is unfolding in front of your eyes.”
Following each performance, there will be an additional monologue reading for each of the characters
and then an audience Q&A; in a unique twist, all questions for the Q&A can be addressed to either the character or actor.
Tickets are currently available for $5 at the MSU information desk or at the KU Presents! box office.