The Pain of Beauty

The newest offering at Playwright’s Horizons is a splashy, sometimes interactive, fantasmagorical romp through the lives of four young women via a core life-altering incident.

If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka packs a punch but Tori Sampson’s script takes it all in stride, with a mash-up of styles, both comedic and dramatic, that reveal not only the story but the myriad ways a story can be told.

Can so many disparate pathways to the crux of the tale’s issue be compatible? The answer: yes.

Níkẹ Uche Kadri (left) as Akim and Maechi Aharanwa (right) as Ma. Photo by Joan Marcus.

It’s very easy to drop into the playwright’s vision and be taken on a journey through the lives of four young women who are navigating growing pains, parents, self-esteem and self-image, friendship (or enemyship), the opposite sex and taking revenge, whether warranted or not.

It’s a heady mix and while not quite what I would describe as magical realism, the play, complete with a couple of musical numbers that gently meld into the storyline, definitely has a quality of otherworldliness, including a zany character in the form of a cell phone and a raucous choir spiritual to bring the house down. Such conceits defy definition yet as a whole, everything gels perfectly. It’s hard to imagine the tale unfolding any other way.

This is a multi-faceted piece and with all the layers of complexity it requires focus and attentive listening. Some of the segments are hilarious while others reveal the darker side of humanity with a seriousness that takes the play in an entirely different tonal direction.

The cast does a superb job, with deft handling of the material as well as a command of language and physical nuance. It’s a true ensemble piece and each actor shines in their respective role.

The ending (which I will not reveal here) is a lovely surprise and completely unexpected. Just when I wondered where the story would end up it suddenly came into focus. Proving that even “ugly” has a choice to be “pretty.”

If Pretty Hurts Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka runs through May 12.