Closing out 2019 and sending us into the new decade, Nonsense Theatre Company presents Neil LaBute's Reasons to be Pretty as their inaugural performance. Directed by Nonsense cofounder Gabriella Ashlin, the piece ran through December 30th at the Retreat.
At a first glance, the space is not particularly conducive to theatre - it is wide, somewhat fluorescent, and fits only a few long rows. And yet, with Ashlin's active blocking and a surprisingly flexible scenic design, patrons quickly melt into LaBute's blue-collar world.
When Greg makes an offhand comment about his girlfriend, Steph, having a "regular" face, she leaves him. Meanwhile, Greg's best friend Kent's marriage to Carly is falling to shambles. From the outside, the two men seem to be having similar relational issues with their "irrational" significant others, LaBute's insightful dialogue peels back the layers to large-scale social influences at play.
Tyler Fridley's Greg is erratic and defensive - his inability to sit still serves as a reflection of the play's men not being able to take anything seriously. Then, towards the end of the story, Fridley's moments of stillness feel well-earned, as if Greg is finally finding peace in his own actions.
Emily Elliott plays opposite Fridley as Steph, and she counters his energy with a newfound strength. Through the breakup, Elliott leads Steph into a self-assuredness, born out of necessity. Her portrayal doesn't hide insecurity, but by embracing it, creates a nuanced embodiment of womanhood in a world of quick judgements.
Emmaline Friederichs and Colin Kovarik bring the intensity with their performance of marriage. In light of the obvious issues between Greg and Steph, Carly and Kent are more able to hide the deep ruptures in their own bond. Friederichs plays a temperate Carly, patient with those she loves and cold to those who do wrong. The walls she has put around herself come down and spur her to action while Greg is finding peace, creating a dynamic energy between the two.
Kovarik's Kent is a visceral representation of toxic masculinity. From his offhand microaggressions to his childish behaviors, he creates a baseline from which other characters can grow.
This quartet of actors keeps the pace of the show so quick that audiences get sucked into LaBute's fast humor, and like the characters, realize the underlying tensions a beat behind. The result is consistent entertainment, bringing up real issues while never taking itself too seriously - the brand for the new Nonsense Theatre Company. The group has set the standard high for their next production.