The Independence Studio on 3 at the Walnut Street Theater’s latest offering, THE UGLY ONE by Marius von Mayenburg (translation by Maja Zade) is the story of a man who, on the eve of doing a presentation of a new invention is told by the owner of the company that he is “unspeakably ugly.” His wife confirms the boss’ assertion, and so Lette (our ugly duckling) goes to a plastic surgeon. The surgeon performs a miracle, and Lette’s life is changed for the better…or is it? This play premièred in 2007 at the Royal Court Theatre in London, and the WST Studio on 3 has the privilege of being the venue for the Philadelphia premiere.
This production boasts some fine performances by the cast. Ben Dibble (Lette) gives a wonderful performance, allowing his character to experience the shock of discovering that he is considered ugly, the fear of the plastic surgery, and the joy of his new face, followed by the many changes he experiences as the “perfect” face. Sarah Gliko (Sarah) is Lette’s wife, who loves Lette despite his ugliness, and who has to deal with the changes after the face change. Gliko is supportive and sexy as Sarah. Noah Mazaika is Karlmann, Lette’s assistant who is selected to do the presentation initially because he is more visually appealing, and whose life changes radically as a result of Lette’s surgery. Mazaika gives a wonderfully understated performance in a role which could easily be overdone. Rounding out the cast is Bill Van Horn as Scheffler, Lette’s boorish and blunt employer, who changes his mind as quickly as he peels a banana. The cast members (with the exception of Dibble) double as the other characters in the storyline. Van Horn is hilarious as the plastic surgeon, Mazaika as the rich son of a richer woman with questionable ethics (Gliko.)
The show is directed by Debi Marcucci, who did a great job of interweaving the characters from scene to scene without a loss of momentum. The show flowed very nicely, and was a visual and aural delight thanks to the set design (Glen Sears) which featured paneled rear-projection inserts, lighting design (Shelley Hicklin) which used pin spots to keep the focus on the speaker as the scene changes were done, and sound design (Paul Winnick) for some very clever sound effects that enhanced the humor of the story.
I find myself in a similar place to another review I posted a few weeks ago…great direction, fantastic performances, inspired scenic design…so why didn’t I like the show? The story is the answer…German humor is an acquired taste (being of German heritage, I am very aware of this) and a translation loses some of the intended humor. The piece is absurdist, which also makes it somewhat difficult to love…where it may have been biting in the original it came out silly in the translation. Finally, the story was dragged out a bit…even though the show is less than 90 minutes in length, it would benefit from about 10 minutes of redundancy being cut.
The Independence Studio does some very cutting-edge material, and I commend them for doing this property. And, the performances are well worth the visit. Thanks to Walnut Street for bringing this show to Philadelphia.
THE UGLY ONE
by Marius von Mayenburg (translation by Maja Zade)
Directed by Debi Marcucci
February 24 – March 13, 2011
Walnut Street Theatre’s Independence Studio on 3
825 Walnut Street