When people go to the theater, they expect to hand their tickets to an usher, shuffle down an aisle and apologetically squeeze by others to their seats. They settle in, the lights dim, the curtain rises and it begins. In this weekend’s Basement Arts production of “Reasons to Be Pretty,” these events will happen, but in a very different order.
Reasons to be Pretty
Today at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m., tomorrow at 7 p.m.
Walgreen Drama Center, Studio One
“The show starts with an explosive fight and that sets the stage for the rest,” said Jon Manganello, a sophomore in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance and one of the leads in the play.
“As the audience is walking in, the play has already started. They will be walking into the theater and we’ll be screaming backstage,” he said.
Before the play begins, the character Steph discovers that her boyfriend Greg thinks she has an average face. When she confronts him about it, the opening fight scene ensues. Throughout the rest of the production, Greg and Steph, along with another couple, explore what it really means to be attractive.
According to Manganello, “Reasons to Be Pretty” addresses issues that people usually ignore.
“It really delves into the questions we don’t want to ask,” Manganello said. “Like, how much is being pretty worth and why is it so important to be attractive? We’re so quick to make comments about how people look that we don’t always recognize the consequences of those comments. But this show does.”
Manganello plays the character Greg, opposite Steph, played by MT&D freshman Emily Hanley.
“My character is the guy who is trying to hold everybody together while everybody’s falling apart,” Manganello said. “I definitely relate to my role the most, but the great thing about this play is that each character is relatable.”
Because the themes of “Reasons to Be Pretty” are so universal, the actors have been able to easily find connections between themselves and their roles.
“There are parallels between the actors and all the characters — that’s what makes this play so human,” Manganello noted. “None of the characters are perfect and everyone’s out there screwing things up,” he said.
According to Hanley, the four-person production is very demanding.
“The parts ask for a lot of range in human emotion,” Hanley said. “My character, Steph, throws a frying pan at Greg before the show starts, so most people think she’s crazy. My goal is to get the audience to see her side of the story and believe her.”
Manganello also went through the obstacles the play has had.
“The dialogue is so colloquial and honest that it’s a challenge for actors who are used to plays that are written in ways that aren’t necessarily how we speak,” he said.
Challenges such as these have brought this already small cast even closer together.
“We’re forced to be in these high-stakes situations, so it’s almost impossible not to bond,” he said.
One of the reasons the actors have become so close offstage is because of close interactions onstage as well.
“There are scenes where the characters are tumultuous and violent, but others where they’re really loving,” Hanley said. “Each character has just been through a lot, but despite everything, they’re really in love.”
The transparency and honesty in each character is what Manganello hopes will hit home to the audience.
“It’s exciting when the audience can walk out of the theater, internalize what they saw and make it their own,” Manganello said. “Everybody can relate to this show, whether they’ve had experiences like this or not.”
—Jordan Rochelson, director of “Reasons to Be Pretty,” has written for the Daily.