I mention this, because The Ugly One, written by German playwright Marius von Mayenburg in 2007, is a social satire about our perpetual obsession with physical beauty.
The very black-humored plot revolves around Lette (David Jensen), a dedicated electronic engineer, who invents a remarkable instrument, but is bluntly told by his boss (Hardee T Lineham) and co-worker (Jesse Aaron Dwyre) that because he is ugly, he will not be permitted to pitch his own invention at various conventions and/or markets. Exacerbating the issue, Lette's wife (Naomi Wright) tells her husband, no holds barred, that he is, in fact, grotesquely ugly, but that she married him for his so-called 'inner beauty.'
With all this, pardon the pun, 'ugly truth' being tossed at you, what's a man to do? In our contemporary world, many individuals would consider plastic surgery. So it's not at all unreasonable for Lette to do exactly that. The result of that surgery, superficial beauty, is the driving force of this play. A kind of contemporary take on the Adonis and Narcissus myths, as well as a reference to The Elephant Man.
The script and production manage to inject humor, pathos and theatricality into a difficult subject. Script and directing-wise, it isn't an easy assignment, exploring the universal issues of image, self-identity, perception and how to get ahead in today's image-driven and consumer-based culture. It's particularly challenging to present this as entertaining and thought-provoking theatre without descending into pedagogy. Nevertheless, both the playwright and director Ashlie Corcoran manage to avoid the trap of "play as lesson" in a style which I would label as 'Contemporary Theatre of the Absurd'.
The play unfolds in one fast-paced act lasting approximately one hour. The acting is strong and the cast versatile, with three of the four actors very capably playing two or three contrasting roles. Additionally, the set by Camellia Koo demands an agile cast, since the actors are constantly required to climb up as well as jump off a massive table, the center piece on an alley stage, with audience seated on both sides. This table serves as a multi-purpose desk, bed, platform, surgical operating space and stage.
Some audience members may be repulsed by the serious, yet comically staged surgery with intentionally added inventive but gross sound effects. And some may be bothered by the "over the top", "larger than life" performances, and/or the fact that there are absolutely no costume changes, regardless of which character the actor is portraying. This makes one thing about this production perfectly clear. Do come prepared to use your imagination and intelligence, since the success of this play's main feature, the plastic surgery, and your appreciation of the production for that matter, depend largely on your desire to buy in, imagine...and think.
Following an extremely successful run at the 2011 Toronto Fringe, The Ugly One is being remounted at the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space in Toronto as a co-production by Smash Theatre with Tarragon Theatre. It runs until February 16.
Theatre Smash is an independent theatre company dedicated to bringing international contemporary theatre to Canada.
The Ugly One
Featuring: Jesse Aaron Dwyre, David Jansen, Hardee T. Lineham and Naomi Wright
Directed by: Ashlie Corcoran
Produced by: Stacey Norton
Set & Costume Design: Camellia Koo
Lighting Design: Jason Hand
Sound Design: John Gzowski
Stage Manag: Natasha Bean-Smith