reasons to be pretty

reasons to be pretty

2009 Tony Nominee – Best Play

By Neil LaBute
Directed by Paul Melone

March 4 - April 2, 2011

This incendiary drama from Neil LaBute (Fat Pig, The Shape of Things) asks, “How much is ‘pretty’ worth?” Sparked by one man’s offhand remark about his girlfriend’s appearance, reasons to be pretty navigates the crumbling relationships of four young friends as they come to terms with their unfulfilling lives and question the American obsession with physical beauty.

Run time: 1 hour, 55 minutes without an intermission

March/April 2011

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Burt Grinstead

BURT GRINSTEAD* (Kent) is extremely excited to make his SpeakEasy debut especially with such an awesome show and cast! Off-Broadway: Will inThe Girl in the Park, Mitch in Physical, Albert Feather in Ladies in Retirement. Regional: Mark Antony in Julius Caesar and Hal Carter in Picnic. Burt would like to thank his awesome family and friends for their support.

Angie Jepson

ANGIE JEPSON* (Steph) returns to SpeakEasy having previously appeared in The Little Dog Laughed (Ellen) and The Vibrator Play (Annie u/s). Other local credits include Mabel and Mrs. Chevely in An Ideal Husband (Gloucester Stage Company); Honey in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (Publick Theatre); Bianca in Taming of the Shrew (Commonwealth Shakespeare Company); Aramintha in Howard Zinn's Daughter of Venus (Suffolk University and Boston Playwrights' Theatre); and other roles with the Lyric Stage Company, New Rep, and Stoneham Theatre. Angie is also a fight choreographer and teacher in the Boston area, and is a graduate of the MFA Acting program at Brandeis University.

Andy MacDonald

ANDY MACDONALD* (Greg) is excited to be making his SpeakEasy debut! NY credits include Power of Sail (Cherry Lane), The Heidi Chronicles (Threads),The Scarecrow (Metropolitan Playhouse), Hamlet (Producer's Club), Connie Wilde (Greenwich St. Theatre), andMuch Ado About Nothing (The Duplex). Regional credits include A Doll's House, A Trip to Cork, and Baby with the Bathwater, plus various productions at Trinity Rep. Andy is a graduate of Wheaton College and received his MFA at Trinity Rep Conservatory. He currently lives in Arlington with his wife Lori, and directs high school theatre in Lexington.

Danielle Muehlen

DANIELLE MUEHLEN (Carly) is excited to be making her SpeakEasy debut. Other local credits include Helen/Vinnie in The Donkey Show (American Repertory Theater); Lady Macbeth in Macbeth; and Audrey in As You Like It (Gurnet Theatre Project). She has also performed with Apollinaire Theatre Company, Makeshift Theatre Company, and Independent Drama Society. Film credits include Jenny in Fairhaven. Danielle is a graduate of Boston University where she earned a B.A. in Biology. She'd like to thank her loving family and friends for all of their support through her drastic career change this past year!

*Member of Actors' Equity Association (AEA), the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States.

Interviews with: Author Neil LaBute | Director Paul Melone


An Interview with Neil LaBute

Neil LaBute

This interview was conducted via an exchange of emails with Neil LaBute who is in London directing the World Premiere of his playA Forest Dark and Deep. LaBute is the first person to be interviewed twice for a SpeakEasy program. The first time was in 2007 for Fat Pig.

reasons to be pretty is the third of your plays that SpeakEasy has premiered in Boston, one which provides yet another take on our culture's skewed ideas about body image and physical beauty. What draws you to this topic repeatedly?

I suppose because it appears to be a fairly important topic to most people, regardless of age and size and gender. We all want to be some perfected version of ourselves and work at it in various ways, some serious and some comical (at least to the outsider). It's amazing and amusing what we'll do to achieve results and also to please ourselves or other people. I'm drawn to characters who want things but go about getting them in interesting ways or find themselves unable to make them happen because of who they are emotionally, psychologically, physically, etc.

The Shape of Things is set in academia, Fat Pig in an office environment and reasons to be pretty in a decidedly working class milieu. How does the setting for each play inform the ideas connecting them?

Because the three plays ended up being a loose trilogy, they share a similar number of characters and a structural cohesiveness. That said, I wanted the environments in which the stories play out to be unique and interesting. Each of the worlds in these plays are familiar to me without any of the plays being autobiographical. I am drawn to these places and I also like writing about people who work and how that work effects their private lives.

What initially inspired reasons to be pretty and fueled the pump as you began to write?

I started asking people-men and women-if they felt like their current relationships could survive if they knew their respective partners didn't like the way they looked. I thought this idea had the makings of an interesting play or film and the answers I received were very sobering. Most of the women felt they couldn't continue on [in the relationship] if this was the case, whereas most men really didn't care.

You made substantial revisions to reasons to be pretty when it transferred from Off-Broadway to Broadway last year-namely dropping the monologues that each character has that are in the published script. Do you often do major rewrites for subsequent productions of your plays? And do you enjoy rewriting?

I did make changes from Off-Broadway to Broadway and that was not a unique experience for me-I like writing and that includes re-writing. The changes to reasons to be pretty were organic and made sense for the audience we were trying to attract, but I personally like the monologues and would probably want to return to them when I direct the play.

Were you on board with the marketing strategies tried by the Broadway producers which ranged from an open call to audition "real people" for a subway ad campaign, to a series of talkbacks with celebrity host, to a texting game where the audience rated their own appearance and that of the people sitting next to them? Do you think these efforts helped engage the audience?

I appreciate a good idea and it's a tough gig trying to get a thousand people in the same auditorium to see a play; sometimes the ideas are good ones and other times they're not. I want to believe that a good show with good actors and good reviews will be enough to draw people in but that is not always the case. I do think it was a troubling choice to push the 'beauty' side of the show in advertisements but then to cut the monologues as they were the pieces that most directly dealt with that thematic aspect.

Where does you incredible ear for dialogue and the rhythms of conversation come from? Is it possibly connected to an interest in music?

Thank you for that and the answer is I don't know-I don't seem to be a traditionally 'musical' person. I do love music and try to use it carefully in my work but as far as dialogue goes, I just try to 'hear' the characters as I write them and let them speak for themselves. I feel like I'm much truer to my characters than I am to the audience and I try to create speech that feels both natural but also highly theatrical. An audience member should go to a play and experience something different than life; I don't write documentaries but rather fictions that try desperately to feel real.

You're in London now directing the World Premiere of your newest play and will be directing the Broadway production of Fat Pig this spring. If you had to choose between being a playwright or a director, what would it be and why?

I'll say straight off that I love directing and it gets me out of the house-the connection you have to make with people in directing is important and fun to me. I am, however, a writer at heart, and love nothing more than creating the worlds that are eventually inhabited by wonderful artists and visited by interested audiences. I am essentially an outsider and I feel safest and at my best with a pen in hand and creating new tales of love and loss.

--Suzanne Bixby


Paul Melone Talks about Directing Neil LaBute

Paul Melone

Paul Melone began working at SpeakEasy a few months after his 2000 graduation from Boston University's theatre program. In 2003, he became the full-time Production Manager; and in 2005, added the responsibilities of General Manager. reasons to be pretty is the seventh production he has directed for SpeakEasy and the third by playwright Neil LaBute. Together with The Shape of Things (2003) and Fat Pig (2007), the three LaBute plays form a loose trilogy.

What do you look for in a directing project?

I love plays and musicals that go to a darker, more emotionally unsettling place. I find that very fulfilling. I feel like it makes the most of what we can do as theatre artists-have that visceral connection with our audience. We get to go into the room and act out these scenarios and then we all leave and something has been exorcised. If we take our darker impulses and give them some good exercise now and then, maybe then we won't be so captive to them in our day-to-day lives.

I'm really-you know, I'm a very nice guy. [laughing] There's nothing about Neil LaBute's plays that I would ever want to experience in my own life and hope that I never do. But I do feel like if we're going to do it-if we we're going to create an environment where we get to have this happen-we might as well go for the jugular. Director Paul Melone

Is that what attracts you to Neil LaBute's plays?

That is what attracts me. And the fact that he is very crafty, a masterful writer with a unique knack for making people behave in a nasty way that is also incredibly innovative. I find myself amazed by the ways in which his characters can be, not just bad human beings, but really interesting bad human beings.

Was it hard to cast these particular plays because the topic is physical appearance?

Yes, it's really hard to cast. You can't avoid typecasting, and typecasting is a bad word now. Typecasting means casting an actor based solely on their outward physical appearance and disregarding their talent, their craft, their history and their qualities as a human being. It's almost more like casting a musical where if you can't hit the high A, nothing else matters. The theme of physical beauty in a LaBute play is like the requirements of the score in a musical. But then you still have to find the actor who has the craft to do it and can also handle the emotional baggage of the role. So that's tricky. In rehearsal, part of the work is the actor coming to terms-or deciding not to come to terms-with the issues of the play and whether they affect them or not.

Casting aside, what's the greatest challenge directing the LaBute plays you've done?

I think it is making the actors comfortable enough to go to the emotional extremes that are required. People in his plays have really bad days. There are events where really awful things happen to them. In his plays I've directed, it's usually a state of emotional damage or despair that is evoked as opposed to physical violence or abuse. To make that work, we have to believe that it matters to the person. And that's hard. That is why acting is hard sometimes. You have to be in a situation where you know a healthy human being or a confident human being would have the perspective to choose to not be insulted or hurt or wounded or suffer because of what another person has said or done. In order for the play to work-for there to be the conflict that is the essence of drama-it has to matter even if the character doesn't want it to, even if they try and convince themselves, "Well, I don't need him anyway." It has to really wound them.

What do you like best about directing a Neil LaBute play?

I like his language, his use of idiom. He writes very good dialect and I believe the conversational patter. And that's a really hard thing to do. It's one thing to write a really emotional monologue about the worst day of your life, but you don't have to be a dramatist to do that. You can be someone who writes a very good personal essay. But if you put two guys in the break room of a corporate office or a factory, or in an apartment in off-campus housing, those people are going to have to have conversations. Not everything they say is going to be a deep, emotional revelation, though, and that's where you really have to know how to write dialogue. I feel like he does. And it's not just set pieces of two guys talking just like guys do. The themes and issues are woven into all of that. So that's what's the most fun.

He also writes how people talk when they are not at their best, when they are very uncomfortable. I think that's also unique to modern playwrights. He can effectively write people who aren't good speakers without making the whole play sound like it was poorly written. The rhythm of people talking who don't know how to say what they have to say is something that he does really well. And that's a lot of fun to explore.

I asked LaBute about the marketing strategies for the Broadway production of reasons to be pretty and he admitted to being a little uncomfortable with the emphasis on "beauty."

That was one of the things I talked about when we were just getting started. I said, "People are calling these the 'beauty plays' and thematically I get that, but in this particular script it's not really present in what these people are doing." Characters feel upset because they've been judged, so judgment is more useful to explore as an over-arching theme. Judging behavior or judging physical beauty is a theme that comes up again and again.

The other thing I love about this particular play-and the one thing I will say about beauty-is that in terms of casting to type, he did a brilliant thing. There's one character who thinks she's very attractive (and other people refer to her as so) and another who's called "regular," not pretty. But then there's a third woman we never see who is held up as the "ultimate"-more beautiful than even the pretty one. And I think that's kind of brilliant because once you start playing the game of ranking who's prettier than whom, there's always a prettier person out there.

--Suzanne Bixby

JEFF ADELBERG (Lighting Design) SpeakEasy: Nine; Body Awareness; Adding Machine: A Musical (Eliot Norton Award for Outstanding Design); [title of show]; Blackbird; The New Century; The Little Dog Laughed; Fat Pig. Other recent work: The Hotel Nepenthe, Timon of Athens and The Duchess of Malfi (Actors' Shakespeare Project - IRNE award for Best Lighting Design); 2010 Christmas Revels;Four Places (Merrimack Repertory Theatre); The Real Inspector Hound (Publick); Gaslight (Stoneham Theatre);Twelfth Night, Rent, La Rondine, and Machinal (The Boston Conservatory); Sexual Perversity in Chicago and The Duck Variations (American Repertory Theater); Speed-the-Plow (New Repertory Theatre). Jeff attended the University of Connecticut and teaches at Boston College. www.LDJeff.com

RICK BRENNER (Sound Design) is happy to be working with SpeakEasy again, having previously designed sound forStupid Kids, A Class Act, and The Shape of Things. Other local credits include sound designs for Random Caruso, Plays On Tap, Ballast, and the Xmas Files I and II (Centastage); Centennial and The Constitutional Convention (Suffolk University Theatre); Sanctuary Lamp and Gargarin Way (Súgán). Rick received an MFA in Technical Production, Sound Design from Boston University and a BFA from Emerson College. Rick would like to thank his wife Ilah for her continued love and support. Rick and Ilah began dating many years ago while working together on a SpeakEasy production.

GAIL ASTRID BUCKLEY** (Costume Design) happily returns to SpeakEasy for her 21st production. Recent SpeakEasy designs include costumes forIn the Next Room (or the vibrator play); Adding Machine: A Musical (2010 Elliot Norton Award - Outstanding Design); The SavannahDisputation; Blackbird; The New Century; The History Boys; The Little Dog Laughed;The Mystery of Edwin Drood; The Women; and Fat Pig. Recent work includes; A Moon for the Misbegotten, Hysteria, and Not Enough Air (Nora Theatre); Cherry Docs (New Rep); Table Manners (Gloucester Stage); A Christmas Carol (Hanover Theatre); and Chicago (Concord Academy). Gail received the 2002 Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Costume Design; the 2002 IRNE Award for Costume Design forTwelfth Night at Commonwealth Shakespeare Company; and the 2006 IRNE Award for Costume Design for her work on both Caroline, or Change and The Women for SpeakEasy. Gail is a member of United Scenic Artists, Local 829, and a board member of StageSource.

ERIC LEVENSON ** (Scenic Design) has designed twenty-three previous SpeakEasy productions. These have included sets for Nine; [title of show]; The Savannah Disputation; Jerry Springer - The Opera, Blackbird; Some Men; The Little Dog Laughed; Parade; Caroline, or Change; Kiss of the Spiderwoman; Take Me Out; Company; A Man of No Importance (co-production - Sugán); A Class Act; Three Days of Rain; An American Daughter; and Balm in Gilead (Elliot Norton Design Award). Eric has also designed both sets and lights for SpeakEasy's productions of Floyd Collins and Our Lady of 121st Street. Upcoming projects include the sets for the World Premiere of Silver Spoon at the Nora and Passing Strange at New Rep. Eric is an all-categories member of United Scenic Artists, Local 829.

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Basic Show Information

reasons to be pretty
By Neil LaBute
Directed by Paul Melone
March 4 - April 2, 2011


PDF Downloads


A woman (Angie Jepson) confronts her boyfriend (Andy Macdonald) about a comment her made about her looks in a scene from the SpeakEasy Stage Company production of Neil LaBute’s Broadway hit reasons to be pretty, running March 4 - April 2 at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End. Tix/Info: 617-933-8600 or www.SpeakEasyStage.com. Photo: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo. From left: Andy Macdonald and Burt Grinstead in a scene from the SpeakEasy Stage Company production of Neil LaBute’s Broadway hit reasons to be pretty, running March 4 - April 2 at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End. Tix/Info: 617-933-8600 or www.SpeakEasyStage.com. Photo: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo.
From left: Andy Macdonald and Burt Grinstead in a scene from the SpeakEasy Stage Company production of Neil LaBute’s Broadway hit reasons to be pretty, running March 4 - April 2 at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End. Tix/Info: 617-933-8600 or www.SpeakEasyStage.com. Photo: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo. A man (Andy Macdonald) confronts the co-worker (Danielle Muehlen) responsible for his break-up in a scene from the SpeakEasy Stage Company production of Neil LaBute’s Broadway hit reasons to be pretty, running March 4 - April 2 at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End. Tix/Info: 617-933-8600 or www.SpeakEasyStage.com. Photo: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo.
A man (Andy Macdonald) watches as his co-workers (Burt Grinstead and Danielle Muehlen) share a romantic moment at work in a scene from the SpeakEasy Stage Company production of Neil LaBute’s Broadway hit reasons to be pretty, running March 4 - April 2 at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End. Tix/Info: 617-933-8600 or www.SpeakEasyStage.com. Photo: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo. A woman (Angie Jepson) confronts her boyfriend (Andy Macdonald) about a comment her made about her looks in a scene from the SpeakEasy Stage Company production of Neil LaBute’s Broadway hit reasons to be pretty, running March 4 - April 2 at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End. Tix/Info: 617-933-8600 or www.SpeakEasyStage.com. Photo: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo.
A woman (Angie Jepson) humiliates her boyfriend (Andy Macdonald) in a mall food court by reading aloud a list of his physical shortcomings in a scene from the SpeakEasy Stage Company production of Neil LaBute’s Broadway hit reasons to be pretty, running March 4 - April 2 at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End. Tix/Info: 617-933-8600 or www.SpeakEasyStage.com. Photo: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo. A man (Andy Macdonald) runs into his ex-girlfriend (Angie Jepson) in a restaurant lobby in a scene from the SpeakEasy Stage Company production of Neil LaBute’s Broadway hit reasons to be pretty, running March 4 - April 2 at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End. Tix/Info: 617-933-8600 or www.SpeakEasyStage.com. Photo: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo.
A man (Andy Macdonald) runs into his ex-girlfriend (Angie Jepson) in a restaurant lobby in a scene from the SpeakEasy Stage Company production of Neil LaBute’s Broadway hit reasons to be pretty, running March 4 - April 2 at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End. Tix/Info: 617-933-8600 or www.SpeakEasyStage.com. Photo: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo. A woman (Danielle Muehlen) asks a co-worker (Andy Macdonald) about her husbandís extramarital activities in a scene from the SpeakEasy Stage Company production of Neil LaBute’s Broadway hit reasons to be pretty, running March 4 - April 2 at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End. Tix/Info: 617-933-8600 or www.SpeakEasyStage.com. Photo: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo.
A heated discussion between two friends (from left, Andy Macdonald and Burt Grinstead) erupts into a brawl at a championship softball game in a scene from the SpeakEasy Stage Company production of Neil LaBute’s Broadway hit reasons to be pretty, running March 4 - April 2 at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End. Tix/Info: 617-933-8600 or www.SpeakEasyStage.com. Photo: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo. A woman (Angie Jepson) surprises her ex-boyfriend (Andy Macdonald) at work in a scene from the SpeakEasy Stage Company production of Neil LaBute’s Broadway hit reasons to be pretty, running March 4 - April 2 at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End. Tix/Info: 617-933-8600 or www.SpeakEasyStage.com. Photo: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo.