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St. Louis by Richard Green

The Ugly One
Echo Theatre Company

Also see Sarah's review of Exhibit

The Ugly One
Michelle Hand, Ben Nordstrom and Charlie Barron
This is one two-faced comedy, even for a play about plastic surgery.

Marius von Mayenburg's uproarious 2007 script gets its foot in the door with a surprising psychological gambit, and before you know it, the house is full of freaks and carnys: Ben Nordstrom plays Lette, the man whose face is variously described as "ugly," "unacceptable" and even a "disaster" (this last one courtesy of his straight-faced wife, played with outrageous comic finesse by Michelle Hand). Of course, the problem for the audience is that Mr. Nordstrom is a perfectly fine looking fellow, and therefore we must constantly remind ourselves that (for the purposes of the play) he is not. That unbalancing creates such a state of reverse-facial dysmorphia in our own heads that all sorts upheaval soon become inevitable. It's quite ingenious, creating a whole new type of farce as a result, where we are willfully deceived into one mistaken identity crisis after another. Of course, we feel good about imagining that only we can see Lette's "inner beauty," but the joke's as much on us, as all sorts of other outrageous things are revealed in rapid-fire succession.

Once the ugly truth of the matter (long kept secret) is revealed to Lette, he gets himself to a plastic surgeon (Charlie Barron) and goes under the knife. A series of hilarious sound effects, created on stage by actor Terry Meddows, helps paint a picture of the horrifying restructuring on the operating table. And when the bandages are inevitably removed, Lette's whole world is changed in an instant.

It should be noted that Mrs. Lette fell in love with him when he fixed her broken down automobile, and at the time his face was covered in soot. Her confession about how she's made it through their years together, barely able to ignore his heinously ugly mug, is as shocking as it is funny. Now, of course, she can't keep her hands off "the new him," nor (it soon develops) can any other woman on earth. She also plays a high-powered business executive, ravenous for the magnificent, newly-made swan; and flips back and forth between her on-stage identities in the blink of an eye, with startling agility.

In fact, the others in the cast, Mr. Meddows and Mr. Barron, also play multiple roles, adding to the "who-am-I-now" danger on-stage, and the jealousy and envy and undeniable success of the operation all inspire a mob of tag-alongs that ultimately destroys Lette's remaining shreds of identity. He races into the highest building he can find, and jumps into an elevator, planning the fast way down. Unfortunately for Mr. Lette, his elevator is lined with mirrors, giving Mr. Nordstrom a great opportunity to exploit the whole identity crisis to even grander proportions, which he does masterfully.

The Ugly One continues through April 19, 2009 at Crestwood Court (formerly Crestwood Plaza) at Watson and Sappington Roads, in retail space 134 (near the former Dillard's). And in spite of the nearly non-existent set and lighting, and the brevity of the show (60 minutes), director Eric Little and his cast cram in enough comic elegance for a show twice as long. For more information on a late night performance and Easter holiday schedule, call (314) 225-4329.

Cast
Scheffler: Charlie Barron
Karlmann: Terry Meddows
Lette: Ben Nordstrom*
Fanny: Michelle Hand

Crew
Director: Eric Little
Stage Manager: Greg Faupel

* Denotes member, Actors Equity Association

Photo by John C. Lamb


-- Richard T. Green

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