I genuinely love That Pretty Pretty. For me, it is one of the most eloquent pieces of writing about the process of writing I have come across. Of course, I expected that some audience members will dislike the play as strongly as I like it. Sheila's take on gender is not for everyone, nor are her loopy structure and hard-to-stomach characters.
What I did not expect was the number of people who leave the theatre stuck on the fence--unsure about what they were taking away, unclear about what Sheila was trying to say, and uncertain about their own reaction to the piece. And yet, as cast and crew members will attest, this is our most common audience reaction.
Upon reflection, this should not have surprised me--it was exactly the way I felt after seeing the original production at the Rattlestick Theatre in New York. Days later I decided I liked the play, after reading it again with Exile, I fell in love. For those still trying to work out their feelings, I wholeheartedly recommend a second viewing or a reading of the script. Those who have agree that repeated exposure really helps.
John Patrick Shanley wrote about his play Doubt that the last act of his play does not occur onstage. Rather, it "takes place after the play is over, when people decide or don’t decide what the play’s about and who did what...the end of the play takes place when you go out and have a drink and have a fight with your wife about what happened." And even then, he allows, you are unlikely to come to any concrete conclusions. That "doubt" is what he's after. And, to a certain extent, ambiguity is also what That Pretty Pretty encourages. Hopefully, no matter how you feel, it'll get you talking.
That Pretty Pretty does not make it easy on audiences. Some will walk out knowing exactly how they feel. But most will find trying to pinpoint Sheila's meaning like trying to catch light on the wall, just when you pin it down, it slips away. You may never figure out what she means or how you're supposed to feel. And that's ok.