How utterly devastating it must be to go through life as "unfortunate
looking." I could live with plain, ordinary, even homely — but unfortunate? This is no way to live. It’s shear impetus to go under the knife: just get surgery and look like everyone
Certainly, many people
bank on their good looks to get them through life; but there are indeed others who
actually have to earn respect through hard work. Which would you prefer? The first is easier, no doubt. I’m guessing most of us would love to avoid the latter of the two if we could.
The Ugly One, now showing at the Guthrie’s Dowling Studio, uses
an "exploratory" (apparently, the director,
Benjamin McGovern, doesn’t like to describe theater as experimental,
so in an effort to avoid offending him, I’ll use the word exploratory)
avant-garde style, typical of black box theater. Simple scene designs and costumes, and exploratory direction, drive through a message about the importance of succeeding
by hard work, regardless of physical shortcomings.
The Ugly One follows the story
of, as you may expect, a very ugly man named Lette (played by Kris
L. Nelson). While Lette is initially (the only one) unaware of his unfortunate stature, his shallow, smug boss (played by Luverne
Seifert) finally sets him straight by cruelly informing him that he is in fact very ugly. It is at this
point that Lette decides to reconstruct his face. After a successful
surgery, people are enthralled by his good looks, and he is quickly promoted to head of sales. As his ego seeks long-awaited gratification, however, Lette is overcome by the astonishing amount of women who want to sleep with him. Yes, he’s just as human as the next frog-turned-prince; and with so many choices as hand, he cheats on his beautiful wife, who, captivated by her husband’s
new face, refuses to leave him.
News travels fast of the seemingly
impossible (and ludicrously lucrative) surgery, and envious, greedy hoards swarm to the surgeon to recreate his masterpiece upon their faces. Before long, Lette’s face is everywhere — even among his coworkers. (Can you imagine seeing your face in every cubicle down the hall?) The novelty long gone, the original incumbent prince reevaluates his decision.
The 55-minute play has only
four actors, each playing multiple characters. The only woman
in the play, actress Kate Eifrig, smoothly transitions from Lette’s
wife to an old woman with enough plastic surgery to make Dolly Parton
jealous. It’s safe to say her characters are the easiest to
distinguish, as she utilizes her whole body to interpret them. This is no surprise considering all the roles she played in her last Guthrie performance, 9 Parts of Desire — a stellar one-woman production.
Kris L. Nelson’s did a great job flipping from an ugly man with a
beautiful heart to an attractive man with an ugly heart, realizing that he lost himself in the midst of his transformation.
What’s particularly interesting about this production, however, is the way it plays off of the audience’s imagination. Rather than simply presenting beauty and ugliness for us to react to, most of what we know is not seen, but derived from reactions and dialog. The audience reacts to the reactions, rather than to the physical aspects themselves. This brings out
an interesting irony in the play, since the theme revolves around identity
in terms of physical beauty. Does the play strengthen its point by refusing to present beauty in physical form? Or is it simply cowardice — avoiding any statement or distraction of what is beautiful or ugly?
A farcical comedy with wit and intrigue, The
Ugly One is an enjoyable exploratory play that will leave
you with an understanding that maybe you ought to take another look in
7:30 p.m., May 28-June 1st,
Guthrie Theatre, 818 South
2nd St., Minneapolis; $18-$34.