by Lynn on January 15, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer


The Ugly One


At the Tarragon Extra Space, Toronto. Written by Marius von Mayenburg. Translated by Maja Zade. Directed by Ashlie Corcoran. Designed by Camellia Koo. Sound by John Gzowski. Lighting by Jason Hand. Starring: Jesse Aaron Dwyre, David Jansen, Hardee T. Lineham, Naomi Wright.


A co-production with Theatre Smash. Plays until February 16.


A trim, good-suited  man named Lette is preparing to go to a trade show to do a presentation on his invention of a special kind of plug. He is told by Karlmann, a younger, trimmer, handsome man that in fact he will be doing the presentation. Lette is understandably upset and wants to know why the change of plans. His boss, Scheffler, tells him. He’s unbelievably ugly and therefore no one would buy the product from him. He’s so ugly that no one can look him in the face, especially Scheffler.  Lette’s wife Fanny, concurs, he’s ugly, although she can manage to look him in just one eye.


Lette is beside himself with concern. And he’s desperate. There is a solution. Surgery. Lette is told by a plastic surgeon he will change Lette’s face into that of a person who is perfectly beautiful. It’s radical but Lette goes for it. His success returns when he is turned into a perfectly handsome man. He is a star on the presentation circuit. Everybody loves him—men and women alike. His wife looks him in the face and both eyes now. Then Lette comes face to face with himself. It seems that others have had the same surgery from Lette’s plastic surgeon and opted for Lette’s face as the model, for a price. Karlmann is operated on with the same results, only now it’s Karlmann who has Lette’s face. Scheffler sends Karlmann on the presentation circuit because he’s cheaper and just as handsome. Lette is dumped again.


German playwright, Marius von Mayenburg has written a diabolical satire of our love of beauty, brand names and cheap knock-offs that look like the real, expensive thing. He has ramped up our obsession with the hot thing of the moment that we all must have, even the perfect face and the painful lengths we will go to get it. Von Mayenburg is skewering the notion that if we use the same toothpaste, or drive the perfect car, or wear the clothes of the moment for example, then we will be attractive and successful. In the end, it’s the loss of the self that is sacrificed.


The Ugly One is getting a splendid production by director Ashlie Corcoran and her company. She and her design team of Camellia Koo (sets and costumes), John Gzowski (sound) and Jason Hand (lighting) have created a startling, stark work. There is a central raised rectangular playing area. There are a few chairs around it. The lighting is florescent and sudden and each cue seems to be accompanied by a startling thud to mark the change. The men wear dark suits simple, white shirts and ties. Nothing sets them apart in that regard. Corcoran paces the panic as Lette sinks deeper into loosing himself and questions why this is happening. The deeper thoughts also concern Fanny and Karlmann. The emotion ramps up and a nice knot forms in the gut as we watch it.


When Scheffler says that Lette is unspeakably ugly, everyone takes in on face value. The audience has to do some serious suspension of disbelief because Lette is played by the handsome David Jansen. He is graceful and confident in his skin, until he’s told he’s lacking. Lette’s nemesis is Karlmann; young, good-looking with silky black hair. He is boyish, respectful, but also has an edge when needed. As Fanny and other women, Naomi Wright is graceful, hesitant when telling Lette bad news, and as a seventy something woman, coming on to Lette, she is like a prowling, dangerous cat. The gruff boss, Scheffler is played by Hardee T. Lineham who is gruff, matter of fact, short tempered and devoted to peeling apples with a pocket knife. Perhaps this is von Mayenburg being cheeky, peeling away the layer of skin to get to the meat, like a plastic surgeon peels away the layers of the skin to get to the stuff he will crack, crush, cut and chisel?


The cast create Gzowski’s sound effects to perfection. As the plastic surgeon does his surgery stage left, stage right is an actor creating the sound effects, squeezing a plastic water bottle suggesting bones cracking; flopping a wet cloth in a bowl and swishing it around suggests blood flowing; and a whirring sound simulates a saw shaving bone.


The points of this sharp play are made with quick efficiency by a talented director and her consistently compelling cast. The Ugly One is a beauty of a production.


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