Mirror, mirror on the wall...

Stained Glass Ugly

By Qui Nguyen
Directed by Robert Ross Parker
Vampire Cowboys Theatre Company/Midtown International Theatre Festival/Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex Stage II
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Charles Battersby

In his Stained Glass Ugly Qui Nguyen asks the question, "Would you still love me if I was ugly?" The play's male lead, Adam (Jesse Teeters), is horribly disfigured ... and recently engaged. Over its one-act length, ...Ugly examines Adam's relationship with his fiancee, Madison (Mary Kickel) and whether the relationship is strong enough to survive one of them becoming grotesquely deformed.

Although the play is essentially a tragedy, it uses the format and style of a romantic comedy. It's filled with quick snappy dialogue, short scenes, and constant surrealistic flashbacks to key moments in Adam and Madison's relationship. Some of these scenes are actually funny, but in general the play is tragic, and the crisp, fast-paced nature of the dialog and scene structure worke against the playwright's intent to examine a serious issue. It so heavily relies on the romantic-comedy formula that it would be a credible vehicle for Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts.

While the concept behind the play is solid, there are problems with how the premise is developed. It is eventually revealed that Adam's deformity is the result of an electric-razor explosion (hopefully intended to be funny). Nguyen never address why Adam won't or can't undergo reconstructive surgery. The issue of plastic surgery would seem to render the play almost moot, yet Nguyen entirely sidesteps it (except in a dream sequence).

Compounding these logical problems is the fact that actor Jesse Teeters isn't disfigured in any of the scenes. Of course many of the flashbacks occur before his character is disfigured, so elaborate make-up was impossible, but the audience was never presented with any image of what the disfigured man looks like (he wears a mask in the scenes after his accident). Another issue that calls the believability of the play into question is the fact that the mask is a flimsy one that is prone to falling off at inconvenient times for Adam (but most convenient for the playwright). Surely Adam would find a mask that wouldn't come off when he's getting lap-danced...

An easy way to let the audience know just how ugly Adam is would have been by using Christopher M. Domansky's "scenography" (photographs projected on the back wall of the theatre). Throughout the show, various pictures were projected on the back wall to punctuate the scenes (e.g., a comic-book "BOOM" when the razor explodes, etc.) and a shot of just how bad Adam looks would have driven the point home and reminded the audience that the handsome actor is actually supposed to be disfigured.

The cast took on their roles well, and had some difficult material to deal with. It also took a certain amount of presence for a mere two actors to hold an audience's attention (though the cast got a little help from Ian Dunn, a live accordion player who provided all the music, as well as Domansky's schmancy scenography).

Overall, the play isn't as ugly it its main character, but it's not quite as pretty as it could be.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2003 Charles Battersby