Review: The Ugly One
In this satire, a man discovers that he's impossible to look at.
Fri Feb 10 2012
Photograph: Julieta Cervantes
The Ugly One
The Ugly One at Soho Rep
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
Marius von Mayenburg's 2007 black comedy taps into a primal fear: Who isn't afraid that one day someone we trust will tell us we're hideous-looking? It was always right there, right under our nose—well, actually, the problem was the nose...and the cheeks, the eyes, the lips, everything. Maybe we can't see our own deformity, but we suspect that family and friends conspire in awkward avoidance of the truth. That's what happens to Lette (Narciso), the beleaguered protagonist of The Ugly One. This engineer of a vaguely defined industrial plug is informed one day by his boss, Scheffler (Garman), that he's too disgusting to give a sales presentation. When Lette's wife, Fanny (Joyce), confirms his facial unpleasantness, he embarks on a cosmetic odyssey of plastic surgery, sudden sex appeal and deeper issues about normative forces in society. By the end, Lette has run an absurd gamut from being hard to look at to looking like everyone else.
At roughly 60 minutes, the Kafkaesque satire sprints along without hammering its points into triteness or irritating us with its deliberately broad, flat characters. Director Daniel Aukin—departing from the saturated, finely etched naturalism of last season's 4000 Miles (returning to Lincoln Center in March)—whips up a frenzy of gross-out tableaux and cringe-comedy laughs. In the central but not flashy role of Lette, Narciso finds pockets of soul and pain. Garman, last seen sleazing on teens in Thomas Bradshaw's Burning, is double-cast (like the other actors), most humorously as a plastic surgeon with nervous twitches. Joyce is zany and fearlessly grotesque. And as a series of sniveling, bitter underlings, the splendid Steven Boyer scowls and pouts to hilarious effect. Together these fine actors make human stupidity and superficiality a beauty to behold.