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Carla R. Stewart joins Tori Sampson's "If Pretty Hurts..."; Previews Begin Friday, Feb 15
Posted by: Official_Press_Release 10:53 am EST 02/12/19

Carla R. Stewart Joins the Cast of
Tori Sampson’s If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka, Directed by
Leah C. Gardiner and Choreographed by Raja Feather Kelly

World Premiere Production Begins Previews on February 15

With Inventiveness, Humor, and Lyricism, Sampson Bridges a Nigerian Folktale and American Pop Culture to Explore Impossible Beauty Standards and Their Repercussions

Playwrights Horizons (Artistic Director Tim Sanford, Managing Director Leslie Marcus) has announced that Carla R. Stewart (Broadway, National Tour, and Regional: The Color Purple) will play The Voice of the River in the world premiere production of Tori Sampson’s If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka, directed by Obie winner Leah C. Gardiner (Born Bad) and choreographed by Raja Feather Kelly. Performances begin Friday, February 15, and continue through March 31 in the Mainstage Theater at Playwrights Horizons (416 W 42nd St, New York, NY 10036). The production opens officially on the evening of Sunday, March 10.

In If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka, in the village of Affreakah-Amirrorkah, no one questions that Akim is the one true, perfect beauty—not even her jealous classmates. But they’ll be damned before they let her be the leading lady in this story. A decidedly contemporary riff on a Nigerian fable, Tori Sampson’s explosive epic is brimming with live music and dance, as these frenemies jockey for their rank in a culture built on ideals forever out of reach.

The cast features Rotimi Agbabiaka (Regional: Bootycandy; Father Comes Home from the Wars Parts 1, 2, and 3)as Chorus, Maechi Aharanwa (Off-Broadway:
The Winter’s Tale, An Octoroon. TV: “Show Me a Hero”)as Ma, Jason Bowen (Broadway: The Play That Goes Wrong. Off-Broadway: My Mañana Comes. TV: “Blue Bloods”) as Dad, Antoinette Crowe-Legacy (Regional: Seven Guitars, The Model American) as Massassi, Leland Fowler (Off-Broadway: Henry V, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Public; Measure for Measure, TFANA) as Kasim, Níkẹ Uche Kadri (Off-Broadway: School Girls…, The Death of the Last Black Man…) as Akim, Mirirai Sithole (Off-Broadway: School Girls..., The Homecoming Queen. TV: “Black Mirror,” “Russian Doll”) as Adama, Phumzile Sitole (TV: “Orange Is the New Black,” “Elementary,” “The Good Fight”) as Kaya, and Carla R. Stewart (Broadway, National Tour, and Regional: The Color Purple) as The Voice of the River. The creative team includes Louisa Thompson (Scenic Designer), Dede Ayite (Costume Designer), Matt Frey (Lighting Designer), and Ian Scot (Original Music and Sound Designer), Cookie Jordan (Hair and Wig Designer), Alyssa K. Howard (Production Stage Manager), and Noah Silva (Assistant Stage Manager).

Tori Sampson (This Land Was Made, Cadillac Crew), the Kennedy Center’s 2017 Paula Vogel Playwright who makes her New York City professional debut at Playwrights Horizons, began writing If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka during her time in Yale School of Drama’s playwriting MFA program. There, one survey class on the “entirety” of theater history left her frustrated over a remarkable and all too common omission—African storytelling as an ancient and sustained theatrical form. Simultaneously, she found an affinity for Brecht’s sociologically probing storytelling, and his ability, as she describes, to “draw from the past to speak to the immediate, in such a beautiful way that people continue to use his work to speak to these times.”

As America’s Eurocentric beauty standards continued to spill from the media and public figures in the form of racist comments about powerful, visible Black women, Sampson was struck by a way to bridge her interest in re-centering African storytelling in theater while applying a Brechtian analysis to contemporary American society. She began to interview women on beauty standards, and used elements of these encounters to flesh out four central young women characters in a play expanding on a folktale her uncle had related to her—and deconstructing the notions of singular, ideal beauty within it.

Says Sampson, “I wanted to use a folktale in a contemporary way to interrogate why, for instance, Viola Davis isn’t ‘classically beautiful’ and why the country had such a hard time aesthetically with Michelle Obama. The first time I saw her I was awestruck; this was a beautiful black woman whose hair is like mine; her skin is like mine; and to see the attributes of her that I really admired, to see the media tear them down, really troubles me. I wanted to examine the impact of colonization on Black beauty, and to ask what is Black beauty, in a way that speaks specifically to Black women.”

With If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka, Sampson emerges as an endlessly talented world-builder. She collages influences and cultures—elements of contemporary American music, ancient African music; post-colonial religion and pre-colonial spirituality; African and American princess archetypes; American vernacular and Nigerian dialect—into a cohesive vision teeming with imagination.

Gardiner says, “Elements of the design and storytelling will bleed out into the audience, and the experience as a whole will ask you to explore what ‘If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka’ means. If we are successful you will leave excited by what this play encourages you to think about, and the ways you are both a spectator and a participant in the pretty and the ugly.”

Performance Schedule and Ticketing

Performances of If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka take place February 15-March 31: Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7pm, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2:30pm, and Sundays at 2:30pm and 7:30pm.

The production opens officially on the evening of Sunday, March 10.

Flex Passes (customizable bundle, $220+) and Memberships ($45 to join, $25 preview tickets) are now on sale. Package holders receive priority booking and seating, ticket exchange privileges, parking and dining discounts, and exclusive mailings of Playwrights Horizons Bulletins. Patron packages start at $1,750. Packages are available at phnyc.org.

Funding Credits

Playwrights Horizons’ season productions are generously supported in part by The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

Playwrights Horizons is supported in part by public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. In addition, Playwrights Horizons receives major support from the Howard Gilman Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and The Shubert Foundation.

About Tori Sampson (Playwright)

Tori Sampson (Playwright).Playwrights debut. Off-Broadway: This Land Was Made (Vineyard Theatre Lab, 2018); Cadillac Crew (Yale Repertory Theater, 2019). Plays developed at: Great Plains Theatre Conference, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Victory Garden’s IGNITION Festival, Playwrights Foundation, Ubuntu Festival. Tori is a 2017–18 Playwright’s Center Jerome Fellow and a 2018-19 McKnight Fellow. Awards: Relentless Award (2016, Honorable Mention); Paula Vogel Award (2016); Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award (Second Place); Alliance Theater’s Kendeda Prize (2017, Finalist); Susan Smith Blackburn Prize (2018, Finalist); Paul Green Award (2018). Current commissions: Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Yale Repertory Theatre, Atlantic Theater Company. MFA Yale School of Drama.

About Leah C. Gardiner (Director)

Leah C. Gardiner (Director). Playwrights debut. Off-Broadway: Born Bad (Obie winner), Generations (Soho Rep.); The Ruins of Civilization (Manhattan Theatre Club); Wit (Union Square Theater); The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Atlantic Theater Company); Pitbulls (Rattlestick Playwrights Theater); Bulrusher (Urban Stages). Regional: Sheepdog, Blue Door (South Coast Repertory); Bread (WaterTower Theatre); Notes From the Field (Baltimore Center Stage/Berkeley Rep); Fences (Oregon Shakespeare Festival); By the Way, Meet Vera Stark (Alliance Theatre); Sucker Punch (Studio Theatre, D.C.); Antony and Cleopatra, Othello (Houston Shakespeare Festival); Angels in America (Connecticut Repertory Theatre). www.LeahCGardiner.com

About Raja Feather Kelly (Choreographer)

Raja Feather Kelly (Choreographer). Playwrights debut. Off-Broadway: Funnyhouse of a Negro, The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World, Everybody (Signature Theatre); Fairview, The Chronicles of Cardigan and Khente (Soho Rep.) Lempicka (Williamstown Theatre Festival); The House That Will Not Stand, Hurricane Diane (New York Theatre Workshop); Fireflies (Atlantic Theatre Company); The Good Swimmer (BAM). Awards: Breakout Award from SDCF, Dance Magazine's Harkness Promise Award (2018), Solange MacArthur Award for New Choreography (2016), Princess Grace Award (2017, 2018). Raja is the artistic director of New Brooklyn Theatre, and founder of the feath3r theory, which merged in 2018.

About the Cast

Rotimi Agbabiaka (Chorus). Playwrights debut. Regional: Father Comes Home From the Wars … (Yale Rep, American Conservatory Theatre); Sojourners, runboyrun (Magic Theatre); Black Rider (Shotgun Players); Bootycandy (Brava Theater); A Raisin In The Sun (California Shakespeare Theatre); Choir Boy (Marin Theatre Company); multiple appearances with Tony Award-winning San Francisco Mime Troupe, where he is a collective member. Solo plays: Homeless, Type/Caste. Co-writing: Seeing Red. Director: VS (TheatreFIRST). MFA in Acting from Northern Illinois University. www.rotimionline.com

Maechi Aharanwa (Ma). Playwrights debut. Off-Broadway: The Winter’s Tale, An Octoroon (TFANA); The Old Settler (BHT); Sweet, Facing Our Truth - Night Vision, No More Monsters Here (NBT); Mother Courage, Macbeth, The Blacks, Trojan Women (CTH). Regional: The Call, Seven Guitars, Antigone, Miss Julie. Film: Boy In A Backpack, Police State. Television: “Elementary” (CBS), “Show Me a Hero” (HBO), “30 Rock” (NBC), “Person Of Interest” (CBS), “Mercy” (NBC). Princess Grace Award Recipient. Training: Juilliard. www.maechi.net

Jason Bowen (Dad). Playwrights debut. Broadway: The Play That Goes Wrong. Off-Broadway: Alternating Currents (Working Theater); My Mañana Comes (Playwrights Realm). Regional: Native Son (Yale Rep.); Jazz (Baltimore Center Stage); As You Like It, Black Odyssey (Denver Center Theatre Co.); Ruined (La Jolla Playhouse, Huntington Theatre, Berkeley Rep.); A Raisin In The Sun, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (Huntington Theatre Co.). TV: “Blue Bloods,” "Madam Secretary," "Elementary," "Braindead,” Law & Order: SVU.” Film: The Upside.

Antoinette Crowe-Legacy (Massassi). Playwrights debut. Anoinette graduated in 2018 class from The Yale School of Drama, where she played in shows such as The Three Sisters, Seven Guitars, and Our Lady of 121. Born and raised in Texas, she attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas where she played in Colored Museum, The Women, and more. She is currently working on the TV Series “Godfather of Harlem,” which will premiere this year on Epix.

Leland Fowler (Kasim). Playwrights debut. Off-Broadway: Henry V, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (The Public); Measure for Measure (TFANA). Regional: Skeleton Crew (Dorset Theatre Festival); Protect the Beautiful Place (McCarter Theatre Center); Seven Guitars, Familiar (Yale Rep); The Taming of the Shrew, Tiny Houses (Chautauqua Theatre Company); Songs to Grow Onand By the Way, Meet Vera Stark (Alliance Theatre). BA: Morehouse College. MFA: Yale School of Drama.

Níkẹ Uche Kadri (Akim).Playwrights debut. Off-Broadway: School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play (MCC, Drama Desk Award); The Death of the Last Black Man…(Signature Theater); Iphigenia in Aulis (Classic Stage Company).TV “One Dollar,” “Seven Seconds,” “Divorce.” Training: The University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater B.F.A. This production is dedicated to my family who supports me ceaselessly and the culture of the Yoruba and Igbo people of Nigeria whose blood runs through my veins. www.nikeuchekadri.com.

Mirirai Sithole (Adama).Playwrights debut. Off-Broadway: School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play (MCC), The Homecoming Queen (Atlantic), The Death of the Last Black Man... (Signature); Mother Courage and Her Children (CSC); Frontières Sans Frontières (Bushwick Starr); Autumn's Harvest (Lincoln Center). Regional: School Girls…, Skeleton Crew, Our Town, Christmas Carol. TV: “Bull," "The Affair,” "Master of None,” “Broad City,” upcoming “Russian Doll” (Netflix). Awards: Lortel, Drama Desk Ensemble, Rosemarie Tichler. BFA Adelphi University. miriraisithole.com

Phumzile Sitole (Kaya). Playwrights debut. Off-Broadway: Comedy of Errors, Othello (Classic Stage Company), YellowCard RedCard (New Ohio Theatre). Regional: Macbeth (Northern Stage); Little Foot (Market Theatre JHB). Tour: Antigone in The World. Television: "The Good Fight" (CBS All Access), "Orange Is The New Black" (Netflix), "Elementary" (CBS). Film: LostFound (Sundance). MFA Acting Columbia University. Sitole is a South African actor and voice over artist.

Carla R. Stewart (The Voice of the River). Playwrights debut. Broadway: The Color Purple(Church Lady/Olivia). First National Tours: The Color Purple (Shug Avery), Ghost the Musical (Oda Mae). Regional: The Color Purple (Shug Avery, Paper Mill Playhouse), Little Shop of Horrors (Ronette, Sharon Playhouse), The Wiz (Dorothy, Arkansas Repertory), Rent (Joanne, Surflight), and others. A big thank you to my agents, HCKR! Galatians 6:9. Instagram: @mzzzruth. Facebook: Carla R Stewart.

Stage Management

Alyssa K. Howard (Production Stage Manager). Playwrights debut. Recent: Good Grief (Vineyard), Henry VI (NAATCO), Teenage Dick (Ma-Yi + Public Theater), Word Sound Power (BAM), The Echo Drift (Prototype), Glass Guignol (Mabou Mines). Other NYC: Playwrights Realm, Atlantic Theater, Noor Theatre, Bushwick Starr, 3LD. Regional: Yale Repertory, Berkshire Theatre Group, McCarter Theatre, Bucks County Playhouse, Connecticut Repertory Theater, and more. Tour: Japan Society/Tokyo Bunka Kaikan, Beth Morrison Projects. MFA: Yale School of Drama. BA: Williams College.

Noah Silva (Assistant Stage Manager). Playwrights Horizons: The Treasurer, The Profane, Rancho Viejo, Aubergine. OtherOff-Broadway: What the Constitution Means to Me (NYTW); Othello (NYSF); Hangmen (Atlantic); Relevance (MCC). He is a graduate of Hofstra University with a BFA in Stage Management.

About Playwrights Horizons

Playwrights Horizons is dedicated to cultivating the most important American playwrights, composers, and lyricists, as well as developing and producing their bold new plays and musicals. Tim Sanford became Artistic Director in 1996 and Leslie Marcus has been Managing Director since 1993. Under their decades of leadership, Playwrights builds upon its diverse and renowned body of work, counting 400 writers among its artistic roster. In addition to its onstage work each season, Playwrights’ singular commitment to nurturing American theater artists guides all of the institution’s multifaceted initiatives: our acclaimed New Works Lab, a robust commissioning program, an innovative curriculum at its Theater School, and more. Robert Moss founded Playwrights in 1971 and cemented the mission that continues to guide the institution today. André Bishop served as Artistic Director from 1981-1992. Don Scardino succeeded him and served until 1996. Over its 47-year history, Playwrights has been recognized with numerous awards and honors, including six Pulitzer Prizes, 13 Tony Awards, and 39 Obie Awards.
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