Arts Theatre

PreVue: The Ugly One looks vanity right in the face

// Lucas Boutilier
// Lucas Boutilier

Are your eyes too small? Your forehead too big? Beard too patchy, hair too thin?

You’ve probably parsed your reflection in the mirror with a more critical eye than anyone else would ever care to—but they’re also busy doing the same thing for themselves. For something that’s ostensibly left in the eye of the beholder, we’re pretty partial to endlessly concerning ourselves with our outward appearances. And for every positive change we make, some other new aspect of vanity creeps into the picture.

“It starts to become this thing of, when am I good enough?” Nathan Cuckow says, at a rehearsal-space table, while director Kevin Sutley, sitting beside him, nods agreement. “When is my physical appearance, which is in flux all the time, good enough? … We’re constantly going through self-improvement, or self-whatever: where we groom, we get haircuts, we shave. If we have crooked teeth we get our teeth fixed. Through all these body modifications that are socially acceptable, and then we start to veer into the plastic surgery world of our cosmetic appearance: having lips enhanced or eyes adjusted or whatever these things are.”

This is where The Ugly One aims its satirical glance. Presented by Kill Your Television Theatre, it filters the ideas of vanity and appearance through a darkly comic cipher: Lette (Cuckow), an engineer, realizes that he’s being passed over at work because of his looks—worse, his wife can only bring herself to look at his left eye. So he goes under the scalpel, and he re-emerges with a new face that brings him acclaim—and, it quickly becomes apparent, a great many more issues than he had before.

The script, by German playwright Marius von Mayenburg—which will mark the first time his work has been shown in town—toys with the dynamics of live theatre to make its points. Scenes jump quickly through time and space; three of the cast’s four members play multiple characters.

“It’s not like American realism, in that sense where they spend a lot of time in a room,” Cuckow notes. “The play shifts location and environment on a dime; character shifts on a dime.”

They found the script while working on The Crackwalker last year; there was an appeal to its contrasts with that project—that one was an epic-sized drama rooted in harsh, unrelenting realism, while this proved a shorter, funnier scirpt.

“The style is so very different,” Cuckow says. “I felt like it was an opportunity for us to stretch our muscles in a different way, that fits thematically into the world we produce.”

It also had a socially poignant story that remained on par with KYT’s mandate of idea-challenging work. The vanity on display in The Ugly One, they both note, is as prevalent as ever off-stage: even rumoured plastic surgery on any major public figure still makes headlines and regenerates the conversation.

“And who are we doing it for?” Sutley asks. “For me, that’s the interesting question: ultimately, it’s for yourself. You can talk about how you want other people to perceive you, but it’s ultimately a way of loving yourself, I think—which, on one level sounds like a healthy thing. But then it becomes a narcissistic thing. Where is the balance?”

Until Sat, May 23 (7:30 pm; 2 pm Saturday matinee)
Directed by Kevin Sutley
ATB Financial Arts Barns,
$16.50 – $26.50

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