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The Ugly One

Is 'the perfect face' still perfect if everyone has it? Marius von Mayenburg's satire on vanity, surgery and society explores the dystopic potential of looking amazing.
By Bethany Small
November 28, 2011
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The Ugly One

Is 'the perfect face' still perfect if everyone has it? Marius von Mayenburg's satire on vanity, surgery and society explores the dystopic potential of looking amazing.
By Bethany Small
November 28, 2011
  shares
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Marius von Mayenburg's The Ugly One is all kinds of satirical, and while it tends to be the convention to call satires 'searing' or maybe 'biting', let's bypass those particular clichés in order to say that the play moves on at an, er, 'cracking' pace. It is, at roughly an hour, quite short and a lot happens onstage. Like engineering, office politics, extramarital affairs, a lot of fruit getting eaten, and a bunch of surgeries rendered (especially the first) with ingenious and brutal sound effects that really justify the 'cracking' thing. "We'll start with the nose," the surgeon explains at the start of each, "because it sticks out furthest from the face." Onomatopoeia ensues.

Faces are the big thing of the play, with the central characters transformation from having an "unacceptable" face to one that is perfect, precipitating a new age of personal and professional success that turns weird when his plastic surgeon starts replicating the procedure all over town. The subsequent confusion and upset is absurd enough that you don't feel bad about it, but hits close enough to home that feeling bad about not feeling worse comes into effect. The simple production design and sensitive performances keep the play poised between allegory and relatability, ending up at a point where you know you're not that shallow, but may be left wondering if you're not-shallow enough.

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