Tuesday, March 11, 2014


What Peter Brook wrote about eloquently in his book The Empty Space, reminds us that “…  theatre defies rules, builds and shatters illusions, and creates lasting memories for its audiences.” Hopefully, this shall always be true.  Brook’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream did that, as did his Dr. Faustus, many years ago at the Ahmanson.  Defy the rules: create lasting memories.
Robert Joy and Eve Gordon  Photo by Kevin Riggen

Waiting at the box office I heard the ticket seller say, “Oh.. Back Again!” to the woman in front of me.  It’s not a surprise that lovers of theatre may return again and again.  This is a landmark production. 

THE UGLY ONE by Marius von Mayenburg (translated by Maja Zade) and directed by Ensemble Studio Theatre LA Creative Director Gates McFadden exemplifies what can happen when all of the elements of Theatre are drawn together properly.  It’s the chemistry of casting excellent actors in a well written play creating a collaboration of artists which, with luck and skill become a perfect ragu!    That’s what a great production is, after all: quality ingredients prepared with loving care by artists who know what they are doing.

Our ensemble for The Ugly One: Robert Joy, Eve Gordon, Tony Pasqualini and Peter Larney, each protean and truly enjoying the play, transform flawlessly as story emerges. A brilliant engineer (I think) has created a wonderful widget and is looking forward to doing a presentation to a conference of potential buyers.  He learns that he is just too ugly to make the pitch.  Hilarity ensues!
Tony Pasquallini, Robert Joy, Peter Larney  Photo by Kevin Riggen

The small audience sits is a space hardly bigger than an average living room. At what might be considered ‘rise’ (there is no curtain), the actors haul their props and costumes out of four Banker Boxes at one end of the tennis court style stage. We are now engaged!  It’s big and loud and funny and brash and silly and moving and mean and deep and superficial.

This smaller space is a big change for Ensemble Studio Theatre LA and it just goes to show that all dedicated theatre people ever need is a space and a passion.  The passion, of course, resides within each member of this company (and in this script, too), including fantastic projections by Hana Kim and beautifully simple sets and costumes by Ms Kim and Catherine Baumgardner.  The "turn off your cell phone" admonitions are personal. The cast is a smoothly running machine.

The Ugly One (is beauty in the eye of the beholder or in the skills of the surgeon who starts with the nose because it sticks out further on the face?)  is a play for those who love the challenge of being swept along practically in a stream of consciousness. Lines flow musically. Every beat is crisp and clear: A Dance. Smooth as silk. Four actors embody eight different characters.  The character's names don’t change:  The Ugly One/Lette: Robert Joy, Jenny: Eve Gordon, Karlmann: Peter Larney  and  Tony Pasqualini: Scheffler.  It’s never problematic to observe the characters change from boss to surgeon, from assistant to son, from wife to old woman. (Eve Gordon’s limp steals the show!).    Only Joy as Lette sticks to his character from start to finish, though evolving from The Ugly One to the Handsome One Who Argues with Himself. The dialogue is fluid and funny. Theatre on a tennis court. Expert and at least a near masterpiece.  ESTLA and director Gates McFadden have created a Space and a Passion.   The Ugly One is a must see for anyone who truly loves theatre and appreciates watching an ensemble that knows its business inside out.

FEBRUARY 15 — MARCH 31, 2014
323 611 1929
3269 Casitas
Los Angeles, CA 90039

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