Young people are often plagued by lapses in communication. Words get twisted, meanings become misconstrued and feelings get hurt.
Jobsite Theater’s production of Neil LaBute’s “reasons to be pretty” portrays the toll miscommunication takes on relationships between friends and lovers.
At the play’s center are four blue-collar 20-somethings, struggling to overcome dissatisfaction with their lives, relationships and physical appearances.
When Steph discovers that her boyfriend, Greg, offhandedly describes her physical appearance as “regular,” she decides to leave him. The couple’s married friends become involved, and the close-knit relationship among the four starts to disintegrate. Secrets, lies and infidelities are exposed.
Director David Jenkins, who is currently enrolled in a Ph.D. program in Performance Studies at USF, said the play offers a realistic representation of how people interact in modern society.
“We don’t talk in complete sentences, nor do we speak in perfect sentences. We don’t wait for people to finish what they’re saying,” said Jenkins, who graduated from USF in 1995 with a degree in theater performance. “When you hear that on stage, it sounds like a real conversation is going on.”
LaBute’s dialogue is conversational and terse. The script includes natural qualities of everyday, casual discourse and conversations between characters are loaded with American colloquialism. The characters experience conflict as a result of miscommunication or, in many cases, a complete absence of communication.
“We’ve all said something harsher than we wanted to in the heat of the moment,” said Dayton Sinkia, who recently graduated from USF with a degree in theater performance. “The play is a commentary on how we deal with each other – people hear each other, but they are not really listening.”
Sinkia plays the part of Greg. Like all of the characters in the play, Greg is flawed. Sinkia said Greg possesses traits that are morally reprehensible, yet he strives to understand the origin of these qualities.
“He might really hurt your feelings or be selfish, but he does not want to break your spirits,” Sinkia said. “He wants to be liked, but he is not always likable.”
After a stint off-Broadway, the play enjoyed a successful Broadway run in 2009 under the direction of Terry Kinney, who made some alterations to LaBute’s original script.
The most noticeable change is the removal of four monologues delivered directly to the audience by each main character. Jenkins said he agreed with Kinney’s alterations because the monologues broke up the hard-hitting conversational action between characters.
However, Jenkins said he included components of the play taken out of the Broadway production – making Jobsite’s version a blend of LaBute’s original and Kinney’s production.
Jenkins said college students won’t have a hard time identifying with the on-stage action, and the dialogue and situations in “reasons to be pretty” are culturally current.
“We know all of these four people,” Jenkins said, “or we’ve met all of these four people.”
Obsessed with physical appearances, these four watch as their relationships simultaneously begin to disintegrate. Aside from caring too much about their exteriors, the characters also feel trapped internally – stuck in dead-end jobs with nowhere to turn.
“These are four people, really blue-collar people, who are at a point in their life where they are just feeling stuck,” Jenkins said, “which I think a lot of people can relate to.”
“Reasons to be pretty” is now showing at the Shimberg Playhouse at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts until June 5. Showtimes are Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. Tickets start at $24.50.