‘The Ugly One’
Through Dec. 17
Caos on F
923 F St., N.W.
Lette may be smart but he ain’t pretty. In fact, the inventor of a new high voltage conductor is so uneasy on the eyes that his boss won’t allow him to present at an industry conference. In short, his face would be would be bad for business.
Assayed by Gary DuBreuil (who is not unattractive), Lette is the title character of German playwright Marius von Mayenburg’s “The Ugly One” now playing at Nu Sass Productions, the lively woman-centric company, in the very intimate Caos on F’s upstairs space.
Mayenburg’s satire flips the script on looksism. Rather than women dealing with the male gaze, it’s men who are ultra-concerned with their appearance; and it’s the bottom line-focused woman boss Scheffler (Aubri O’Connor), who informs Lette that his better-looking assistant Karlmann (David Johnson) will be introducing the inventor’s latest discovery. Scheffler is annoyed that it’s her job to set Lette straight on his looks. She always thought she’d have a secretary and he would take care of these things.
At home, Lette’s wife Fanny (Moriah Whiteman) matter-of-factly confirms what the office has so bluntly stated — his face is unacceptable. Theirs has been an audible and not visual relationship, Fanny explains. Since they met she has tried to focus on his left eye when she looks at him, so as not get the full impact of his general hideousness. But Fanny adds that Lette is a beautiful person just not in a physical way.
The all-around pitilessly frank assessment of Lette’s looks are hilarious and the best part of the show.
In an effort to save his career and newly damaged self-esteem, Lette visits an ambitious plastic surgeon (again O’Connor) who is hesitant to work on someone so ugly but figures the outcome can’t be any worse than his current condition.
The results are a resounding success proving a boon to both Lette’s domestic and work life. Thrilled with her husband’s new visage, Fanny repeatedly asks, “Will it hold?” Things are rosy in the office too. But soon Lette’s new face goes to his head. (He says, “I look like someone I’ll always envy.”)
Women line up. Affairs ensue. His boss encourages him to pursue a relationship with an interested septuagenarian client (Whiteman also). Her gay son (again Johnson) is also hot for Lette. With lots of innuendo about Lette’s work with plugs, this part of the storyline grows a little tiresome.
The 80-minute comedy continues along spoofing our beauty-obsessed culture. The doctor begins marketing her skills and soon men are lining up to look like Lette. His assistant is surgically remade to look like him, and even his gay admirer pays to become a mirror image of Lette which fascinatingly toys with identify and some narcissism and leads to a kiss.
Renata Fox’s direction is able and clever with scenes quickly and seamlessly changing from one to the next. The small and imaginatively lit set efficiently works as various offices and a cozy living room. The parts are played necessarily broadly but sometimes much too loudly for a tiny space like Caos on F which seats about 30 people. The performances are more interesting when the volume is brought down a few notches. But the cast does a very fine job, especially Whiteman as Franny, and O’Connor, a charismatic actor who towers over DuBreuil’s Lette.
After a recent curtain call, I jotted down: “Were Lette a woman she’d no doubt have already had a better sense of her appearance. Society would have made sure of it.”