”Do you have to be so, like…loud all the time?” Greg (Thomas Sadoski) asks his permanently agitated, possibly-ex-girlfriend Steph (Marin Ireland). In Neil LaBute’s world, apparently she does. We’ve seen Steph for two scenes in reasons to be pretty and she’s spent both of them screeching like a howler monkey. (”F— you, f— you, F— YOU, F— YOU!”) She’s threatened to flush Greg’s goldfish, she hurled an ashtray at his head, and she’s about to launch into a profanely detailed list of his physical imperfections right in front of the Panda Express of a mall: ”Your nostrils make me sick and I always have to look up into them because we have the most unimaginative sex… I think you’re gay maybe — seriously, you should check into that.” Not that her anger is unjustified — she’s seething over a seemingly offhand remark Greg made about her unpretty face. But once LaBute sends her from zero to psycho, there’s no going back.
An unsympathetic heroine saps the energy right out of rtbp, which marks the prolific playwright’s Broadway debut and his third meditation on body image/beauty obsession (see also: 2001’s The Shape of Things, later filmed with original stars Rachel Weisz and Paul Rudd; and 2004’s Fat Pig, starring a mercury-free Jeremy Piven). A hit in its downtown premiere last summer, rtbp has since received a substantial makeover: Ireland stepped in for Alison Pill, late of Milk and HBO’s In Treatment, as the plain-faced heroine; Rescue Me star Stephen Pasquale now plays alpha-male Kent, who’s not pleased about the ever-expanding ass of his pregnant model-gorgeous wife Carly (Piper Perabo). Also, LaBute wisely cut the characters’ awkward direct-address monologues. (Greg’s concluding speech actually began with the words ”What’d I learn from this?” If he didn”t know after 2 hours and 20 minutes, LaBute sure didn’t do his job.)
But in his tinkering, LaBute also completely excised all of Steph’s likeability. Her speech engendered sympathy. ”Don’t I wanna be with someone who finds me beautiful?” Steph asked in rtbp’s earlier version. ”I don’t have that much going for me, not really. Not all educated and smart or anything, and not gorgeous, not like some girls — but I like what I’ve got and I’m gonna protect that… I mean, wouldn’t you?”
Though it wants for well-rounded characters, rtbp is still laced with LaBute’s trademark acidity, not to mention fine performances. Pasquale is particularly impressive, the perfect rough-around-the-edges leading man. Let’s hope producers remember him when they revive Fat Pig, the best of LaBute’s body-image trilogy. In the Off Broadway production, Pasquale replaced Piven. And something tells us Piven won’t be back on the boards anytime soon. B? (Tickets: Telecharge.com or 212-239-6200)