Playwright Zak Berkman defines the modern adolescent female as a creature crippled by low self-esteem and access to plastic surgery. Through an unlikely storyline, he examines the damaged psyche of the American teenager and warns of the dangers of self-hate. And as much as earnestly recited faux-sensitive lines irk me — “Imagine if a generation of young women grew up knowing that… their bodies are oceans.” (Oceans? Really??) — I must admit he brings up a real issue.
Leading the cast is Olivia Wilde (Alpha Dog,The O.C.). She shines in this, her first off-Broadway performance, as Lauren Chickering, a beautiful conservative radio show personality. When she is shot in the face seven times, her husband and father seek answers regarding the murder, and end up connecting with more than one damaged soul, or in this case (to follow the playwright’s metaphor) tomato. You see, if girls are tomatoes in the grocery store, the ones on the vine are more desirable — hence, a hierarchy based on superficial qualities.
As a love story, Beauty works. Wilde’s Lauren plays opposite Howard W. Overshown as Sweet, a liberal-minded music writer of mixed race who falls head over heels for the far-right Republican blonde. The two have obvious chemistry onstage, and the writing slowly reveals the deeper motivations for their love, to lovely effect. Yet as a political statement, the play is kind of boring. Blaming “Big God” and “Big Government” for the woes of women is bland. Creativity is expressed in story structure and character development, but I can’t help thinking the play could have consisted of more tomato and less vine.