Talk about planting foot squarely in mouth. When Greg (Steve Froehlich), after a brew or two, opines among friends that his longtime girlfriend, Steph (Rachael VanWormer), has a "regular" face, all hell breaks loose. The very first scene of Neil LaBute's Reasons to be Pretty explodes in f-bombs (more like Steph-bombs), with clueless Greg the recipient of all the invective. And this is nothing compared with the laundry list of Greg's physical deficiencies, including those below the belt, that Steph loudly recites in a painful café scene later in the play.
Isn't love a wonderful thing?
LaBute's sharp-edged candor and thinly veiled misogyny are on vivid display in the San Diego premiere of the 2008 play, directed for Ion Theatre Company by Claudio Raygoza. Its big-picture commentary on the question of beauty seems in Act 1 largely a case of semantics. It isn't until the second act, when Greg experiences a few crucial moments of clarity, that Reasons to be Pretty becomes more about people than about relationship philosophy. Froehlich, a newcomer to Ion productions, brings empathy and insight to bluecollar Greg in Act 2, demonstrating the character's growth from earlier when he thrived on sarcasm and indignation. Greg's maturation effectively underscores the lack of same in fellow box-lifter Kent (Jorge Rodriguez, all physicality), who remains in Stanley Kowalski mode throughout. Kent's pregnant security-guard wife, Carly (Lynnia Shanley), gets the chance, courtesy of Greg's conscience, to escape victim mode (horndog Kent's cheating on her). And Greg nobly steps aside when his ex gets engaged to another guy. (That was fast!)
The action is crisp, full-throated and unapologetic in its adult tantruming, of which all but Carly are guilty. Having seen the light of his own childishness, the reformed Greg is actually a likable dude, and you hope he follows through on his intention to go back to school and make something better of himself. He may get Wonder Woman and the Bionic Woman mixed up, as he does in an Act 1 quip, but he learns fast—and the hard way—that no woman wants to be called "regular."
Reasons to be Pretty runs through Dec. 28 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. $17.50-$35. iontheatre.com
A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant: The life story of L. Ron Hubbard is satirized, in musical form. Opens Dec. 12 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
Dickens Unscripted: An improvised, comedic show inspired by the various characters in the books of Charles Dickens. Runs Dec. 16 and 17 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
The Humbug Holiday Spectacular: A world-premiere musical comedy revolving around Horatio the Humbug and his quest to satisfy the Spirit of Christmas. Opens Dec. 11 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Scrooge! The Musical: The title explains it all. Opens Dec. 12 at C3 Performing Arts Center in Grantville. c3pac.com
White Christmas the Musical: The stage adaptation of the classic 1954 film about a couple of Army buddies who become a music duo and fall for a pair of sisters. Presented by San Diego Musical Theatre, it opens Dec. 12 at the Birch North Park Theatre. sdmt.org
Side Show : A musical based on a true story about conjoined twins and circus-freak-show performers Violet and Daisy Hilton, who find fame as a vaudeville act and search for true love. Through Dec. 15 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.org
The Eight: Reindeer Monologues : An adult-oriented dark comedy in which the reindeer have some things to say about ol' St. Nick. Presented by Different Stages, it runs through Dec. 21 at Swedenborg Hall in University Heights. differentstages.biz
A Christmas Carole : Cygnet Theatre continues its tradition of presenting the holiday classic in the style of a radio play, complete with old-timey commercials. Through Dec. 22 at The Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
A Year with Frog and Toad : Yep, this is a family-oriented musical based on the beloved Frog and Toad children's books. Presented by Oceanside Theatre Company, it runs through Dec. 22 at The Brooks Theatre. oceansidetheatre.org
Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge : Christopher Durang's musical spoof of A Christmas Carol supposes that Gladys Cratchit is an angry, boozing, modern American woman who happens to have 21 kids. Through Dec. 22 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com
Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! : This'll be the 16th year that the green one will slink onto the stage at The Old Globe Theater in Balboa Park. "Fah Who Doraze," indeed. Through Dec. 28. oldglobe.org
Reasons to be Pretty : In Neil LaBute's plainspoken comedy, four blue-collar characters wrestle with notions of physical beauty and the power of modern-day language. Presented by Ion Theatre Company, it runs through Dec. 28 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com
Catch a Falling Star : Lambs Players' holiday play this year revolves around a woman's attempt to film a musical Christmas card at a remote mountain cabin that was meaningful to her father. Through Dec. 29 at Lamb's Players Theatre. lambsplayers.org
Scrooge in Rouge : San Diego's LGBT theater sends up the Dickens classic with a fast-paced music-and-comedy extravaganza. Through Dec. 29 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. diversionary.org
Forever Plaid: Paid Tidings : The wholesome revue of 1950s-style harmony singing returns—again. Through Dec. 31 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.org
Crime Pays : A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net