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 Calgary Sun Review – The Ugly One

Kathryn Blair @ January 23rd, 2012

 Nothing Ugly about this One

BY LOUIS HOBSON ,CALGARY SUN

FIRST POSTED: TUESDAY, JANUARY 17, 2012 11:39 PM MST | UPDATED: TUESDAY, JANUARY 17, 2012 11:44 PM MST

 Marius von Mayenburg’s The Ugly One is a vicious little satire that is as hilarious as it is biting.

Playing at Lunchbox Theatre as part of this year’s One Yellow Rabbit High Performance Rodeo, The Ugly One looks at society’s obsession with physical beauty.

Lette (Matthew Thomas Walker) is a brilliant inventor who is shocked when his boss (Brian Heighton) refuses to let him unveil his latest invention at a prestigious conference choosing to send Lette’s eager apprentice Karl (Adriano Sobretedo) instead.

The ugly truth is that Lette’s face is hideously disfigured which, until this moment no one including his wife, Fanny, (Kate Lavender) has had the courage to tell him.

To save face when confronted, Fanny explains she has always loved Lette for his inner beauty but inner beauty doesn’t count in a material, image-obsessed world.

Off Lette goes to a plastic surgeon who gives him a face so perfect every woman wants him and every man wants to be him.

As directed by Pamela Halstead, this exposition unfurls at breakneck speed inciting an avalanche of laughter.

Mayenburg is a clever writer who keeps twisting his plot piling one absurdity upon another until Lette develops a narcissus complex that threatens to destroy him. Eventually we must ponder which of the two Lettes is the ugly one.

Without the aid of makeup, Walker captures Lette’s remarkable physical, emotional and psychological transformations.

The many supporting characters Heighton, Sobretedo and Lavender play are the kind of heightened caricatures that would be at home in a Monty Python skit.

The Ugly One is a high-wire act that cast and director walk with confidence and bravura.

Fresh fixation - FFWD Weekly (Calgary)

The Ugly One offers worthy twist on the beauty myth

Published January 19, 2012  by Allie Jaynes in Theatre 

Brazilian butt lifts. Grapefruit diets. The mysterious fame of the Kardashians. Folks, we live in a twisted, shallow, beauty-obsessed society.

And, like, we know it already.

So in 2012, can you say anything fresh about our fixation with looks?

Halifax’s DMV Theatre Collective would like to think so.

Their production of The Ugly One, by German playwright Marius von Mayenburg, playing at Lunchbox Theatre as part of the High Performance Rodeo, is a darkly comedic satire that takes an over-the-top look at beauty and its effect on success, love and happiness.

Lette (Matthew Thomas Walker) is a brilliant engineer who is baffled when his lowly assistant Karlmann (Adriano Sobretodo Jr.) is assigned to replace him at a conference showcasing his new invention. His boss (Brian Heighton) has to break the news which, somehow, no one has ever told Lette before: he is unbearably ugly.

Back home, his wife Fanny (Kate Lavender) fesses up: it’s true, he’s got an excruciatingly unfortunate mug, and she never looks at his face, only his left eye. Despite her assurance that she’s grown used to it, and that she loves his personality, Lette is tormented. He turns to a plastic surgeon for help, who insists that Lette is so hideous that the only option is to give him a completely new face.

Lette, to everyone’s surprise, emerges the most beautiful man in the world. Suddenly, he’s gaining credit for his invention, and his once-indifferent wife can’t keep her hands off him — one in a long line of women, including a sexy, nipped-and-tucked 73-year-old CEO who has a creepy Oedipal relationship with her son (who’s also in love with Lette).

The fun doesn’t last long. Lette becomes cocky and overconfident, sleeping around and bragging to his wife, assured that she would never leave such a handsome husband. Soon, the surgeon realizes he can make big bucks by giving men everywhere Lette’s perfect face — suddenly Lette’s value is dropping faster than Greek bank stocks.

While critiquing the beauty myth may not be a new theme, director Pamela Halstead says the game has changed in the 21st century.

“We live in an era of made-to-order appearances,” she says. “Last year, when we were doing the show in Halifax, the big news was that the most popular new plastic surgery was to get your toes shortened. Where does it stop?”

Still, I’ll admit I walked into The Ugly One expecting a cute little piece that would get a few laughs and that would moralize on a theme that’s already been talked to death.

I was wrong. This ain’t no after-school special. It’s a surreal, surprisingly raunchy dark comedy, with a dizzying number of scene changes and a physical comedy that maintains the play’s energy throughout. The acting is witty and pushes the play’s absurdity, particularly Sobretodo Jr. as Karlmann, whose comic timing made the piece for me. By the end, I couldn’t care less if the beauty theme was cliché or not.

Besides, says Halstead, the play is really more about identity and perception. “We grow up and into our self-esteems and our sense of identity over a lifetime,” she says. “What does it do to us when that changes overnight?”

This play on identity is compounded by having multiple characters share the same name (Lette’s wife and the 72-year-old CEO are both named Fanny; both Lette’s assistant and the CEO’s socially inept son are called Karlmann). And there are no costume changes, so characters look exactly the same before and after surgery — leaving us to imagine how beautiful or hideous they might be.

Halstead adds that it’s no accident that von Mayenburg’s play is about a man. “We’re so accustomed to the idea of women doing that — we don’t even see it anymore. When it’s a man, it seems that much more ludicrous.”

The Ugly One - Applause-Meter review 

It was a very fitting coincidence that the opening performance of The Ugly One, a play about the perversely reverential way society esteems beauty, should come just a mere day after I, like many others I’m sure, sat glued to their TV set watching the red carpet of the Golden Globe awards. After a night spent critiquing which star‘s hair/dress/makeup looked best and who ‘s plastic surgery made them the fairest of them all, The Ugly One was a much-needed slap in the face to remind us how judgement based on outward appearances is not only shallow, but dangerous for all those involved. Even better was the fact that this slap was not provided by a heavy-handed preachy production but instead the message was delivered through a clever, surreal, sometimes funny, wonderfully acted and smartly designed and directed 60 minute one-act play.

The story, written by German playwright Marius Von Mayenburg, centres around Lette, an unknowingly hideous-looking engineer, who finds out from his boss that he’s not being sent to present his new product at a conference because he is repulsively ugly. Aghast and upset at the news, Lette goes home to his wife to find out if it is true – if he really is unbearable to look at. His wife, Fanny, praises Lette’s many good qualities but cannot deny her husband’s facial shortcomings. She explains that she thought Lette knew about his looks all along and that she was impressed at his ability to soldier on in spite of his appearance. But her assurances aren’t enough to quash his distress and he instead opts for facial reconstruction that renders him stunningly handsome. This transformation not only changes the way Lette looks (“I look like someone I’ll always envy,” he says upon seeing his face for the first time), it changes the way everyone feels about him too. Fanny is suddenly erotically obsessed with him, his boss is now fawning and eager to send him to the conference and while on the road, throngs of women line up to meet Lette for more than his engineering smarts while orders for his product are pouring in.

But like the saying goes, Lette’s beauty is only skin deep and soon enough he becomes vain and demanding and thoughtless and able to get away with it because of his looks. Until it comes back to bite him that is. I won’t ruin the plot twists for you; they are too much fun to experience fresh. But suffice it to say The Ugly One is an exacting and critical look at our aesthetic values and trust me, no one is spared and no one is redeemed. It’s a deliciously strange and twisted story that makes you think even when you are laughing while making you laugh uncomfortably at the irony while you are thinking.

Just as interesting as the story in this play is the staging and set design. Pamela Halstead remarks in her director’s notes that The Ugly One was a difficult play to conceptualize and a challenge to direct. Several times she says, she and the production team scrapped their ideas and started from scratch. If it was a challenge, the audience is the better for it because what Halstead and her team deliver is an inventive and risky production that is the perfect simple foil for the complex messages of the script. Opting for a chillingly stark stage with white walls and only two props, an operating table that doubles as a desk and a bed and the gauze that Lette wears post operation, Halstead and set designer Anton De Groot create a clinical atmosphere in which the absurdity of the beauty myth becomes magnified.

This bare bones set also does great justice to the uniformly impressive cast, who without scenery and props to rely on are utterly exposed for the fine performers they are. All actors are on stage throughout the play and simply turn their backs to the action when they are not part of the scene and there are many scenes in this play, with all of the actors except Matthew Thomas Walker (Lette) playing more than one role. Brian Heighton as Scheffler (Lette’s boss) and the surgeon oozes wonderful advantage-taking sliminess with both his characters, Kate Lavendar as Fanny and one of Lette’s affairs excels at both the small gestures of her characters (the way Fanny averts her eye from the ugly Lette) and the over the top outrageousness of a woman in erotic heat and Adriano Sobretodo Jr. as Karlmann (Lette’s assistant) and the odd misfit son of Lette’s  female suitor evokes both a man wronged seeking revenge and the vulnerability of not being desired. Walker as Lette, though a little too reserved and plotted as the ugly Lette, lets loose once his character’s handsome transformation and his out of control spiral with a fabulous ease and intensity that begs to be watched.

I have spoken before about my desire for theatre that takes risks and pushes expectations. Not simply for newness sake, but in order to bring excitement and illumination to the stage. This script and this production is one of those experiences. And as a result, dare I say it, The Ugly One is beautiful.

 

RATING

For the guys – You may think that the whole “looks are everything” notion doesn’t affect your gender. Think again. SEE IT

For the girls – Beauty as judgement is all too real in your world. This is not simply a shame on us story but rather a disturbingly funny look at how trapped we all are in it. SEE IT

For the occasional audience – Normally I wouldn’t send you to see a play with no props and a surreal storyline – but I think you’ll find it easy to penetrate and fun to watch. In other words, not too weird to enjoy. SEE IT

For the theatre junkie – We don’t get many experimental theatre productions in Calgary with this quality cast and script. SEE IT

 

Best 11 plays of 2011 - CHRONICLE HERALD

(...) #2. THE UGLY ONE, DMV Theatre Collective, at North Street Church, Halifax, Jan. 21-29. Starring Brian Heighton, Kate Lavender, Adriano Sobretodo Jr. and Matthew Thomas Walker. Directed by Pamela Halstead. This biting social satire, about a man who never knew he was ugly until he had plastic surgery and became the most beautiful man in the world, examined the effect of beauty on happiness, career and love. The staging was ingenious, and the shift from ultimate ugliness to ultimate beauty was effectively accomplished without changes in costume or makeup. The play is going to the High Performance Rodeo, Calgary’s International Festival of the Arts, Jan. 16-19.

For the full list click here

 

CHRONICLE-HERALD REVIEW

Published: 2011-01-23

Seeing how ugly is as ugly does

DMV Theatre production examines our relationship to appearances

By ANDREA NEMETZ Entertainment Reporter | Theatre Review

When people learned that the adorable little girl who sang during the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremonies was only lip-synching because Games officials felt the actual seven-year-old singer wasn’t pretty enough to be on stage, the move was met with universal condemnation.

But for adults, the picture is murkier.

Playwright Marius von Mayenburg explores the issue of beauty and its impact on happiness, career and love in The Ugly One, a biting social satire that received its Canadian premiere Friday at the North Street Church in Halifax.

Produced by Halifax’s DMV Theatre Collective, The Ugly One is a riotous journey through the life of Lette, who, as even his loving wife admits, is "excruciatingly ugly."

The play opens as Lette (Matthew Thomas Walker) is happily planning his trip to a big conference where he will present his new invention. But the middle-aged engineer learns that his assistant Karlmann (Adriano Sobretodo Jr.) is going in his stead because his boss believes that no one would buy even the most impressive product from someone with such an ugly face, a situation that is not unimaginable in the 21st century.

Not believing Karlmann, Lette seeks confirmation from his boss, Scheffler (Brian Heighton), in a hilarious turn. It is beyond Scheffler’s comprehension that Lette has no idea he’s ugly and revealing the truth so exhausts him, he has to leave work.

A disbelieving and visibly crumbling Lette asks his wife Fanny (Kate Lavender) if it’s true. Even though she assures him he’s always been ugly and it doesn’t matter — she’s gotten used to looking at just his left eye — he can’t face life knowing that others see him as ugly.

So, he visits a plastic surgeon, also named Scheffler (and also played by Heighton). The distinguished surgeon gags when he informs Lette that he can’t tell him what he’ll look like after the surgery, but even if he has no face, it will be better than what he has now.

Starting with the nose "because it sticks out the furthest" the surgery is completed with gut-wrenchingly funny sound effects. The results surprise everyone. Lette is now as beautiful as he was ugly before.

Fanny begs to touch the face she objectifies for its exquisite beauty, but Lette isn’t sure who the face in the mirror looking back at him is, and isn’t sure if he likes that fact.

The feeling doesn’t last long. He is quickly given the conference assignment. He sends sales shooting through the roof; although it becomes clear Lette is as much the product as the high-voltage connector.

His new-found beauty changes his relationship with his co-worker, his boss and his wife, who worships him for his beauty and lets him treat her unbelievably badly, merely so she can remain close to him.

And it brings up disturbing questions.

Are beautiful people happier and more successful merely because they are beautiful? It certainly seems that way, whether it’s job opportunities, suitors or party invites.

Can they get away with bad behaviour — cheating on spouses, being condescending to others, even crimes like impaired driving — because people long to bask in their glow in hopes it will rub off?

Today, when everyone can have plastic surgery, should they turn back time, fix that awkward chin or unattractive nose, just because they can? Will that make life better?

 

The Ugly One is never preachy and always funny. The actors seem to have a blast onstage, deadpanning the utterances of completely outrageous statements, casting over-the-top glances or making over-the-top advances.

Walker, Lavender, Heighton and Sobretodo Jr., all clad in rather anonymous shades of grey, are pitch perfect in their superficiality. Only Walker dares to question the status quo that being beautiful is the only goal.

The hour-long play, directed by company co-founder Pamela Halstead, unfolds rapidly, seamlessly shifting between characters, scenes and ideas about perception and identity.

And the staging is ingenious with the audience sitting on it, looking down into a pit where the surgery takes place, surrounded by white curtains, accented by a chandelier — the operating pit as cathedral.

The superb show runs nightly at 8 p.m. at 5657 North St. till Saturday with no show on Monday. Tickets are $20 and $15. Call 497-2290 or visit bit.ly/hLXEsb to reserve. Seating is limited.

( anemetz@herald.ca)

 

THE COAST’S REVIEW

The Ugly One is anything but 

The DMV Theatre Collective presents a gorgeous look at our obsession with appearance.

by Kate Watson

Is it perverse to describe a play called "The Ugly One" as beautiful? Well, tough, because this beautifully, simply staged production does a beautiful job of exploring the deep ramifications of society's preoccupation with beauty. In some ways, it covers the same ground as Neil LaBute's Fat Pig or even of Beauty and the Beast, but the writing is as sharp as a surgeon's blade and the humour is black and biting. And how brilliant is to present an antiseptic set and to use no props in a play that's all about appearance? The success of this play depends upon the acting, and the cast in this DMV Theatre Collective production delivers---yes---beautifully.

 

CHRONICLE HERALD PREVIEW

Take a good look at preoccupation with beauty

Play takes you on 'one man’s journey through ugliness’

By ANDREA NEMETZ Entertainment Reporter

Lette is a very successful man with a happy marriage.

Happy that is, until his boss tells him that he can’t make a presentation on a new electrical device he has invented because he’s too ugly.

"He never saw himself as ugly," says Pamela Halstead, who is directing the Canadian premiere of The Ugly One, a biting social satire from German playwright Marius von Mayenburg.

"His wife admits, yes, he is ugly, but she loves him anyway. With that knowledge, he decides to have surgery, and that changes everything."

The production, by the DMV Theatre Collective of Halifax, previews tonight and opens Friday at the North Street Church at 5657 North St. It runs nightly at 8 p.m. till Jan. 29, with no show on Jan. 24.

The play is not about plastic surgery but uses it as an avenue to explore conformity and individuality, Halstead says.

"We look at what is considered beautiful and how it has changed over the course of history, and the way Hollywood has dominated our perception of beauty recently."

Halstead, who was artistic producer of Ship’s Company Theatre in Parrsboro until 2009, is now the artistic director at Lunchbox Theatre in Calgary. She’s happy to be back in Halifax directing a play for DMV, which she co-founded in 2006 with Kate Lavender, Brian Heighton and Matthew Thomas Walker.

This is DMV’s fourth production in five years, following How I Learned to Drive in 2007, The Leisure Society in 2009 and The Blue Light in 2009.

"Historically, the shows we’ve done are contemporary works that have an edge and encourage the audience to re-shift their perception," she says.

How I Learned to Drive was about a pedophile, The Leisure Society was about upwardly mobile people, perfect on the outside but whose inner world had cracks, and The Blue Light was about 20th-century German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, who is still vilified in many circles.

"Matt (Walker) brought The Ugly One to us after Adriano (Sobretodo Jr.) saw it in London, and it absolutely fits in," Halstead says. "We’re asking the audience to look at or alter their own perceptions about beauty." Walker, a Halifax native now living in Toronto, plays Lette.

Lavender, who has performed at Eastern Front Theatre, Neptune Theatre and Ship’s Company Theatre, plays three characters, all named Fanny — a wealthy 73-year-old woman who has had a lot of plastic surgery, the surgeon’s assistant and Lette’s wife.

Sobretodo, who works with Walker at Litmus Theatre in Toronto, plays two characters named Karlmann — the son of the 73-year-old, who now looks older than his mother because of her plastic surgery, and Lette’s rival at work.

And Heighton, who works out of Halifax, plays two men named Scheffler — Lette’s boss and the surgeon.

Walker says he likes that the play investigates whether people should have plastic surgery just because they can.

"It explores a man’s journey through ugliness," he says. "It’s interesting it’s a man and not a woman, and a man who is an engineer and who has no need to be beautiful.

"He’s about 40 or 45 and has a beautiful life. He’s lived that long without knowing he’s ugly. He’s successful, hard-working and loved, but in that moment (when he’s told he’s ugly), his innocence is lost. He goes into free fall because he’s been told he’s ugly and he starts to see himself as ugly and it eats away at him. When he becomes beautiful, it eats away at him in a different way."

Lavender says she was fascinated with the script right from her initial read.

"The characters are interesting and funny and real," she says. "The script is written with no scene breaks, shifts happen between the scenes, characters morph into other characters. The script is incredibly brilliant."

Of the three characters Lavender plays, she relates most to the wife, who has always loved her husband for who he is.

She says having to face her husband and say, "Yes, it’s a fact, you’re very ugly, but I still love you," is something really beautiful and human.

"But I get a real kick out of playing the old Fanny. I’m cast a lot in really straight roles and I get a kick out of doing character work."

Walker says The Ugly One moves so fast that it’s really fun to do.

"It’s fluid, layered and carries you along," he says. "It has really good dialogue."

Halstead says not only are we bombarded with images of beauty but our own image is reflected back at us many more times than it was 100 years ago, with camera phones everywhere and people posting on Facebook.

"Part of the beauty of the piece is that it blurs the lines between identity and perception," she says.

( anemetz@herald.ca)