Jesse Aaron Dwyre and Naomi Wright. Photo: Bronwen Sharp
Reviewed by James Karas
“Beauty is skin deep” according to the aphorism but it is also the most sought-after quality and its attempted achievement the greatest boon to capitalism bar none. German playwright Marius von Mayenburg has taken the esthetic and capitalist aspects of beauty for a satirical trip in The Ugly One which is now playing at Tarragon Theatre Extra Space.
Lette (David Jansen) has invented a new type of electrical plug and he expects to go to a conference to show off his new gadget. Karlmann (Jesse Aaron Dwyre), his junior, tells him that he, Karlmann, is going to the conference and he is getting royal treatment. When Lette demands the reason for being passed over, Scheffler (Hardee T. Lineham), the big boss, haltingly tells him that he is not going to the conference because he is simply too ugly. The point of going is to sell, sell, sell the new invention and ugly is not good for business.
The shocked Lette goes home to his wife Fanny (Naomi Wright) who confirms to his utter disbelief that he is indeed ugly. The only solution seems to be radical reconstructive surgery and Scheffler becomes a plastic surgeon and proceeds to redo Lette’s face into a handsome commodity.
In the short run, this will have the desirable effect but the plot will go through several twists and turns to its conclusion where we see Lette and Karlmann kissing passionately.
The play moves very briskly from the opening scene to its end evoking considerable laughter. The small theatre has a large table in the middle with about half a dozen rows of seats on each side. Some of the seats are reserved for the actors and they use them when not on or around the table. You can hardly get more intimate theatre than that.
Jansen as Lette goes from the shocking discovery that he is ugly, through his transformation to enjoying the euphoria of beauty with fine acting skills. Dwyre is the young employee who is prepared to enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labour. Lineham’s Scheffler is the gruff, practical man of business who wants to make money. Wright is attractive and does a fine job as the wife who saw the inner beauty of her husband but considers him ugly.
I should note that the characters are as much types and caricatures as they are realistic portraits. The actors play them as such and The Ugly One as a satire is not a realistic play but more of an over-sized illustration of an idea.
The set design by Camellia Koo fits the unrealistic presentation of the ideas that the play illustrates.
Credit goes to Director Ashlie Corcoran who opens at a brisk pace and maintains the momentum to the end.
The Ugly One lasts only an hour and is performed without intermission. The shallowness of beauty, the evil of greed and indeed all the human vices denounced in the Seven Deadly Sins have become trite simply by the relish with which most people embrace and practice them. Von Mayenburg tries to view the wisdom of the old aphorism from a different angle but in the end it still has the quality of déja vu.
The Ugly One by Marius von Mayenburg, translated by Maja Zadein a coproduction by Tarragon Theatre and Theatre Smash, opened on January 15 and will run until February 26, 2014 at the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space, 30 Bridgman Ave. Toronto, Ontario. www.tarragontheatre.com