Olympia Little Theater takes provocative turn

Edgy “Reasons To Be Pretty,” which examines body image, will be first of Olympia Little Theatre season’s staged readings

Contributing writerJanuary 10, 2014 

“Reasons To Be Pretty” is not for everyone, said Jim Patrick, who’s directing a staged reading of the play Saturday and Sunday at Olympia Little Theatre.

When he first read the Neil LaBute play about body image, Patrick didn’t think it was for him.

“I said, ‘If it were my choice, I wouldn’t have done this play,’ ” Patrick said. “When I did another reading of it, I started to understand where he was coming from, but I also understood how an audience might walk out.

“I’m hoping that people will give it a chance, because it all comes together at the end.”

It was a quick change of heart: Patrick first read the play last week. He took over directing the reading — which the theater is calling a pop-up play — after the previous director resigned for personal reasons a week before show time.

“I’ve seen a few staged readings, and I’ve done a couple. You just never know what’s going to happen,” Patrick said — and the behind-the-scenes story seems to prove it.

Patrick wonders how audiences will respond to LaBute’s play, which starts off “with a real bang,” he said.

“There isn’t a curse word that isn’t uttered at least 13 times in the first 15 pages,” the director said. “That kind of sets the whole tone of the play. It may turn some people off, but you have to give the whole play itself its full run.”

The play examines the value American culture places on physical appearance, beginning with a man who compares his girlfriend to a particularly attractive woman, concluding: “Steph’s face is just regular. But I wouldn’t trade her for a million bucks.”

While Olympia Little Theatre has produced some edgy plays before, “Reasons” is a complete change in tempo for a company that last produced a silly farce.

That’s part of the reason a reading makes sense, said Toni Holm, president of the theater’s board of directors. In June, the theater will stage a second pop-up play, David Lindsey-Abaire’s “Good People,” which also has adult language. It’s about a struggling single mother and her former lover, now a wealthy doctor who would rather forget his days growing up in working-class South Boston.

“There were a couple of plays that were proposed for the season that we weren’t sure could sustain an audience for four weeks,” Holm said. “We decided to try them out with the audience by doing a staged reading. It’s a way to fit more plays in our season.”

Patrick proposed “Good People” and will direct that one as well. “I’m a big fan of David Lindsey-Abaire’s plays,” he said.

The director plans to cast that reading in April, so there’ll be some time for rehearsals.

For “Reasons To Be Pretty,” though, he assembled a cast Jan. 3 from actors he knows, including Jeff Hirschberg and Rebecca McCarthy, whom he directed last season in the theater’s “Same Time, Next Year.”

Rehearsals began Thursday (as in yesterday). For a staged reading though, that can work since there’s no blocking. The actors will only read and act.

Patrick has some advice for enjoying a reading to the fullest.

“I like to say, ‘Just sit back, close your eyes and think you’re listening to the radio.’ ”

Pop-Up Play at Olympia Little Theatre

What: The theater company adds to its season with a pair of staged readings, this weekend’s “Reasons To Be Pretty” and June’s “Good People.”

When: “Reasons” at 7:55 p.m. Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday; “People” at 7:55 p.m. June 7 and 1:55 p.m. June 8

Where: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. NE, Olympia

Tickets: $5 at olympialittletheatre.org or at the door

More information: 360-786-9484 or olympialittletheatre.org

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