Reasons To Be Pretty and Reasons To Be Happy, both of which were written by Neil LaBute and directed by Jeffrey Meek, are two productions that follow the story of four working-class friends, Steph, Greg, Carly and Kent whose lives focus on the modern-day obsession with physical appearance as well as the ideal of what it means to be happy. Neil N. LaBute is an American film director, screenwriter, playwright and actor. He is best known for a play that he wrote and later turned into a film, In the Company of Men (1997), which won awards from the Sundance Film Festival, the Independent Spirit Awards, and the New York Film Critics Circle. Jeffrey Meek has most recently directed Gun Show by E.M. Lewis, An Upset by David Auburn, and The Dwarfs by Harold Pinter. Currently, he dedicates time toward coaching actors through his studio: The Jeffrey Meek Studio. Both the experience and talent of LaBute and Meek being put together resulted in two hilarious and emotional plays that The LA Fashion Magazine had the pleasure of attending.
Reasons To Be Pretty
Reasons To Be Pretty is a production in which Greg (played by Nick Molari) and his tight-knit social circle are forced to face some trouble when Greg’s comments about a female coworker’s pretty face compared to his own girlfriend Steph’s lack of good looks get back to Steph. However, this is only the beginning of the drama that is involved in the rest of the play. Later, Greg’s best buddy, Kent (played by Eric Olsson), and Kent’s wife, Carly (played by Sarah Jo Jones), also enter into the picture, causing everything to become even more complicated. As each relationship crumbles, the four friends are exposed to deceit, infidelity, and betrayed trust throughout the rest of their journey.
Reasons To Be Happy
Reasons To Be Happy is the second part to Reasons To Be Pretty and takes place three years after Steph and Greg’s breakup. This final half of the production presents Steph and Greg as they wonder whether they can have a fresh start as far as their relationship. The main issue that gets in the way of these two is the fact that Steph is now married to someone else. To make matters even more complicated, Greg has recently formed a romantic relationship with Steph’s best friend, Carly. Reasons to Be Happy covers the choices and sacrifices we are willing to make in the pursuit of what we each believe it really means to be happy.
As far as casting for both productions, Jeffrey Meek spent a tremendous amount of time making sure that he chose actors who would be able to carry out the overall message of each play as well as Meek’s vision for the two productions. After speaking with Meek directly, it is evident that he is beyond proud of the cast and is happy with each of his decisions.
“Casting is really vital to such a demanding play, let alone, two plays being presented one week right after each other. Obviously, I was interested in casting the most talented people possible but I also wanted actors who were nice people and easy to work with. I didn’t have the time to deal with any divas. When we started casting the other two roles, we put out a breakdown and received hundreds of submissions. It took me several days to read all the resumes and check out all the reels. We narrowed the first casting session to about 50 actors. When I saw each actor I not only checked to see if they could act the part but wanted to make sure they could take direction. I also planted a producer/spy in the waiting room and when an actor came in I would ask my spy how they were in the waiting room. Were they nice or a pain in the ass. I had terrific actors that didn’t get the part or even called back for a final audition because they were behaving poorly in the waiting room.” – Jeffrey Meek (Director)
Lexi Graboski (executive producer) plays Steph in Reasons To Be Pretty and Reasons To Be Happy. She grew up in Connecticut before moving to Los Angeles to study theater at Loyola Marymount University. Through her study abroad program, she studied at the Moscow Art Theater in Russia and performed in Bonn, Germany. After returning to LA, she studied with The Groundlings, Robert D’Avanzo, Steven Rodriguez, Carolyne Barry, Donovan Scott, Gary Perez, and Jeffrey Meek. Lexi’s film education has been behind and in front of the camera on the sets of web series, sketch comedy video shorts, as well as short and feature films. She has produced a web series, a short film, several comedic sketches, podcasts, and two plays. Lexi performs regularly around Southern California with Will & Company and across the country with Playfair. She enjoys comedic work through improv and her all-female sketch comedy troupe, Sissy Space Cats. Her short film “Uphill” which she wrote, produced, and starred in will be shown at the Reel Recovery Film Festival and the Wayfarer Film Festival. Lexi played a role in both Reasons To Be Pretty and Reasons To Be Happy that required a high level of emotion on her part.
“If I ever find myself having trouble I just connect back to my fellow actor. And I do my best to raise the stakes. If Steph doesn’t get Greg back, it’s the end of her life as she knows it. Neil LaBute did such a good job of writing a story that twists my stomach into knots, it wasn’t hard to connect to the heartbreak.” – Lexi Graboski
Lexi stated that she was drawn to her role as Steph because she enjoys playing characters that she can personally learn from. Steph’s ability to say exactly what she means forced Lexi out of her comfort zone at first since she tends to hold her tongue in moments when she wishes she hadn’t.
“I wanted to step into this character who doesn’t regret anything and wears her heart on her sleeve. The hardest thing for me was to stop protecting the character. Steph is not always the most likable character in the play, and since I’ve come to love and admire her I wanted people to like her. Jeff kept telling me, “Don’t be afraid to be ugly,” which is poignant because of the title of the play.” – Lexi Graboski
Eric Olsson takes on the role of Kent in LaBute’s two plays. Eric has demonstrated his versatility with roles ranging from producing and playing the lead in the Jeff Daniels’ critically acclaimed play Escanaba in da Moonlight to starring in J.R.R Tolkien’s great-grandson’s feature film debut and the television pilot series “Rellik” directed by Tim Russ. As a graduate from the University of California, Santa Barbara, Eric earned his degree in film and media arts. He made his acting debut in the short film he entered into Pringle’s “Unleash Your Extreme” national contest which he wrote, directed, edited and won an award for. Eric really felt that he was able to relate to his character Kent in both Reasons To Be Pretty and Reasons To Be Happy.
“I thought it was easier to play parts and stay in character because what showed up emotionally for the character were all the feelings I had as in individual. Sometimes what would show up would be a surprise and it was a gift I could use to keep the performance authentic.” – Eric Olsson
Eric appreciates being able to play roles that force him past his limits as an actor. He enjoys experimenting with each character that he plays and bringing new ideas to the table.
Sarah Jo Jones plays Carly in the two plays. She moved from West Virginia to NYC at the age of 17 to attend The American Musical and Dramatic Academy. She danced and acted in theater, commercials, and television in New York including Off-Broadway’s RAW until moving to Los Angeles in 2007. Not only does Sarah Jo have a passion for performance and an inspired imagination, but also a fierce entrepreneurial drive and faculty for business. She’s currently producing her first feature film, WALNUTS. Sarah Jo was thrilled to have her return to theater be with Labute’s inspiring work alongside a persevering and incredibly talented cast and crew. Sarah Jo’s character also required an extensive amount of emotion. However, portraying these sort of feelings did not come so easily to Sarah Jo at first.
“It was hard to always “go there” emotionally during rehearsals because I personally struggle with showing vulnerability. The emotion is taken from something real and painful in my life, so it wasn’t so much hard to stay in character as it was to always “go there.” Luckily, for performances, when there is an audience etc., being vulnerable actually comes easier. I am there to tell a story and live this character’s truth, so I must “go there.” It was however, quite difficult to stay in character while doing scenes with Eric (Kent). He is so spontaneous and funny that he would crack me up a lot, and I would have to focus very hard to stay in the moment of our character’s reality, which is a place where she doesn’t find him amusing at all.” – Sarah Jo Jones
Although Sarah Jo had some difficulty with the emotional aspect of her character, she was nevertheless drawn to her role as Carly because she admired her character’s ability to speak the truth, no matter how painful.
Nick Molari, a graduate of UCLA’s TFT Musical Theater program, plays Greg in Reasons To Be Pretty and Reasons To Be Happy. The recent films that Nick has been working on are “Journey to Royal”, and “Murder Book”. His experience in theater includes “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “Ruddigore”, “RENT”, “Paradise Lost” and “Balm in Giliead”. Nick did not experience any issues getting into character during the scenes in which he had to portray feelings of sadness or anger.
“When it came to the dramatic moments it wasn’t so hard because my emotional response to what was happening is so similar to what Greg is experiencing in that moment but I was having a ton of trouble not breaking character when the other cast members were having some of their funny moments.” – Nick Molari
Nick was not necessarily drawn toward this production because of his particular character. In fact, what drew Nick toward these two plays was his desire to work with Neil LaBute.
“I don’t really know if I have a certain preference for a role. I like doing work where the writing resonates with me but it’s kind of the job of an actor to find that in them no matter what role they’re given. I know that what drew me to audition for this part was the fact that I’ve read a ton of Neil LaBute’s work. I consider him one of the greatest contemporary American writers alive. I didn’t know Reasons to be Pretty or Happy before but in college a lot of people gravitated to his work because he writes brutally honest pieces about people struggling to find themselves and grow into who they are, and it’s really easy for people in their 20’s to relate to that.” – Nick Molari
Each of the cast members had an individual experience and opinion as far as how easily they related to each of their characters and what obstacles they had to overcome in order to give the best performance possible. However, the one thing that each cast member has in common is their experiences working together. These four actors became a family during their many days and nights together working with LaBute and Meek on Reasons To Be Pretty and Reasons To Be Happy. Their genuine passion for their individual work as well as for helping one another excel in their own ways is what truly made both of these plays admirable and allowed the audience to enjoy watching these productions as much as the cast enjoyed working on them.