The Ugly One from Walking Shadow Theatre Company

Photo by Dan Norman

The Walking shadow Theatre Company’s The Ugly One is being staged at the Open Eye Theatre in Minneapolis. This was my first Walking Shadow show and my first time at Open Eye. These are the sorts of discoveries it’s a pleasure to discover and spread the word about. My colleagues from the TCTB I’m sure all know about the theatre company and this performance space, but before I began doing this site these were exactly the size theatre’s and theatre companies that I would never hear of. So it’s one of my hopes to bring attention to these type of productions. If they don’t even know about it, people can’t know what they are missing. This is a small play put on in a small theatre but with some big talent and a script with some big ideas.

The Ugly One by Marius von Mayenburg, translated from German by Maja Zade refers to Lette, a man who while heading up development in a manufacturing company and being married is just now, well into adulthood, being told that he is hideously ugly. Dismayed to have this knowledge confirmed by his wife, who up until this point has made it a practice to look into his left eye rather than his entire face. He goes with his wife to see a Scheffler, a plastic surgeon, who at first refuses to operate on him because he wouldn’t know where to start, there is nothing to work with. Lette points out to him it would be a challenge and that convinces the Dr. to try. When the bandages are removed everyone, including the Dr. is amazed at how perfect his face is. Now one of the most attractive men in the world, Lette finds he has a new role in life. When before he was not allowed to represent his company at a sales convention, he is suddenly being seduced by prospective clients. The Dr. recruits him to come on tour with him demonstrating the effects of his new surgery technique. Lette is on top of the world until the Dr. starts giving others his same face. Then he learns that the value of beauty is not as straightforward as it seems. The play is a comedy, but there are also questions within the work about the role beauty plays in our society, what worth it adds, and what it costs.

A small cast of four performers that play 8 roles with only 4 character names. Sean Dillon is Lette, who is as at home playing the everyman, who didn’t realize he was ugly as he is the increasingly full of himself stunner he becomes. He’s at his best having a frantic discussion with himself in an elevator. Julie Ann Nevill plays Fanny his wife, Fanny the Nurse and Fanny the wealthy client. She undoubtedly shows the most range as she has three completely different characters to play and with the wife role alone she plays supportive, loving, hurt, and rejected. The nurse is no nonsense, and the the rich client who is 76, and very randy, is the most out there and fun. Edwin Stout Plays Scheffler the boss and Scheffler the Dr., his take on the characters is confident if a bit too the same, but regardless he’s quite fun in the roles. Finally Corey DiNardo plays Karlmann Lette’s assistant and Karlmann the wealthy clients son, who is also attracted to the new handsome Lette. DiNardo differentiates his characters well, the assistant being a bit nervous and awkward, the son being rather wild and open. Some of the scenes between the son and mother are the most outrageously hilarious in the show.

Director Amy Rummenie does an excellent job staging and pacing this show. It clips along, running about 70 minutes. The decision to show Lette before and after with the same face was the right one. It works fine, we understand what is happening without some strange mask or makeup. It also adds to the commentary of beauty. The stageing of the surgery and the elevator scenes are both models of simplicity that effectively convey the action and let us focus on the performances and the humor. The scene changes happen at times mid conversation sometimes by as little as the character turning to another as he speaks and a simple lighting change. In that way the lighting design by Tony Stoeri was also effective, subtle shifts made it instantly understandable that we had moved location and time. Scenic Design by Sarah Brandner was simple, I liked the economy of the surgery table folding down from one of many stacks of cubes that made up the set. Otherwise, it was the equivalent of the blocks improv theaters will use. I was less taken with the costume designs by Kathy Kohl. The characters outfits were like patchwork versions of regular clothes. I suspect some link between fashion and our ideas of beauty was at work, but the message wasn’t clear. It felt like an idea that didn’t play very well and worked more as a distraction than as a supporting piece of the whole.

The Ugly One one is a lot of fun, the cast are all game, with Sean Dillon truly nailing his two sided conversation with himself. It’s a faced paced commentary of beauty, that’s more absurd than preachy. It’s a fun time out to a theatre you may not have heard of before, but once you see them, you’ll be watching to see what they do next. For more information and to buy tickets go to