Review | The Ugly One: an actual German comedy

Sean Dillon and Edwin Strout in THE UGLY ONE. Photo by Dan Norman.

All well and good, the Guthrie’s glitzy production of Guys And Dolls; and it’s good that they’ve scheduled (rescheduled actually) Shakespeare’s masterful history cycle; and it’s wonderful that in Three Little Birds CTC put together a show based on music by the late great Bob Marley. Theatre-lovers should be thankful for the ambition of these powerful institutions. Plunk down the large dollars. It’s worth it.

But I like Walking Shadow Theatre Co. WSTC (John Heimbuch and Amy Rummenie artistic directors; David Pisa executive director) specializes in small plays, unusual plays, creepy plays, plays you’re not likely to see anywhere else. Plays like after the quake, Fat Pig, The Sexual Life Of Savages, dozens of others. They don’t have their own space. Right now they’re working at Open Eye; in the past they presented plays at Red Eye, Mixed Blood, the Guthrie (in the Dowling). They’ve managed to avoid the financial woes afflicting many small theaters, causing them to shutter. Let us pray to the gods of theater – I know they’re out there – that this continues. WSTC is a treasure. We need them.

As to the play at hand, The Ugly One by Marius von Mayenburg (translated by Maja Zade): it’s that rarest of rare birds, a German comedy. In it, Lette (played by a perfectly pleasant-looking actor, Sean Dillon) discovers that he’s ugly. Hideously, pukefully, repulsively ugly. When a doctor (played with resonant power by Edwin Strout) offers him a new face, he jumps at the opportunity. The operation is a success! Lette goes from hideous to beautiful. His wife, Fanny, goes from condescending to bitchy (actor Julie Ann Nevill makes a series of breathtaking transformations, bless her, and bless director Amy Remmenie for offering expert guidance). Women arrive on Lette’s doorstep, offering, ahem, sexual services. Corey DiNardo is a hoot and then some as Karlmann who screeches technical gobbledy-gook as if makes sense.

The Ugly One is an effective meditation on the shallowness of beauty and the pervasiveness of greed. It does get static, but director Remmenie keeps things zipping along. She brings her usual taste and intelligence to the proceedings. If there is better worker-with-actors out there, I’d like to know who she/he is.

So check out The Ugly One. Unless you travel to Europe, you’re not likely to see another von Mayenburg play.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. John’s The Voice Of The Prairie has been performed 100 plus times and ditto Minnesota Moon and his adaptation of Sideways Stories From Wayside School. His The Summer Moon won a Kennedy Center Award For Drama. John has won fellowships from the Jerome Foundation, the Bush Foundation, the McKnight Foundation and from the National Endowment For The Arts. Please visit his informational website.




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